TPW Commission

Work Session, January 26, 2022


TPW Commission Meetings


January 26, 2022



CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good morning, everybody. We're here for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Workshop Session, January 26, 2022, at 9:03 a.m.

Before we get started, I'm going to take a roll call. Aplin present.



COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton -- oh there's Abell. Patton present.



CHAIRMAN APLIN: So thank you for showing up. We have two Commissioners that have let me know they will not be able to attend. Commissioner Galo and Commissioner Hildebrand, but we do have -- other than that, we have a full house. So I'm going to call this meeting to order January 26, 9:05 a.m.

But before proceeding with any business, I believe, Carter, you have something to tell us.

MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you Mr. Chairman. For the record, public notice of the meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I'd like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Commissioners, as a reminder, please announce your name before you speak and try to speak slowly so the court reporter can get everything you have to say down.

The first order of business is the approval of the minutes from the previous Work Session held November 3rd. I'll need a motion from a Commissioner and a second.


COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell seconds.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. I have a motion and a second. All those in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody opposed? Hearing none, the motion carries.

Next, we have Work Session Item No. 1, it's the Update on Texas Parks and Wildlife Department --

MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I'm sorry. Just a quick reminder. You've got to turn on the mic.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Microphone. Did everyone hear what I said prior to that? Okay, good.

Next we have Work Session Item No. 1, it's the Update on Parks and Wildlife Progress on Implementing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Land and Water Conservation Resource Plan, Mr. Carter Smith.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I appreciate the opportunity to share a few words with y'all this morning on a variety of topics germane to our land and water conservation efforts and the Department as a whole.

Just as a point of departure, a quick update on Internal Affairs and that a small, but very high functioning team. Mike and Jarret and Johnny, Mark, Patty continue to do a terrific job. One of the things that I think you'll be interested in -- and, Commissioner Bell, in particular -- not unlike internal audit, they're going through a whole digital modernization process to essentially make all of our working papers electronic in everything from, you know, complaint forms to all of the investigative related materials and so forth. And so that's going to add a whole lot of efficiency and I think time saving to that work. And so I appreciate the team's efforts.

In addition, Assistant Commander Barker and Captain Longoria traveled to a National Use of Force Conference in Connecticut recently. Obviously, that use-of-force topic is a hot one in police circles in the public these days and making sure that the Department with respect to its protocols and procedures and policies governing use of force by our officers is consistent with the best national standards and so look forward to updates there from -- sorry. Obviously something going on behind. Wasn't sure. Learned to watch my back these days.

So but anyway, we'll keep you updated on that as that team progresses on that front.

This feels like really old news to me, but I think I may have just neglected to share this at our last Commission Meeting and so let me publicly remedy that. Jamie McClanahan is our Director of IT Division. And no strangers. She, of course, was our acting IT Director. She's been with us for 20 plus years. She's an accountant. She's got an MBA. She's got decades of experience in the information technology world. She's going to be a terrific leader for this program.

She bleeds Parks and Wildlife. She raised a family on a state park where her husband was a superintendent and is now a regional director and so she knows and lives our mission round. You know, from a leadership perspective, you couldn't ask for better. Just her integrity is unassailable. She has terrific interpersonal communication skills. She's got a servants heart and she's got a terrific relationship with our other Division Directors who that IT team serves with all of the back-end things that are so critical to the operations and management of this Agency.

So Jaime's a terrific addition to our leadership team and I look forward to y'all working with her as the years progress. So a belated congratulations to Jaime.

Speaking of promotions, Aaron Friar is our new special assistant to our State Parks Director. Rodney's special, so he gets a special assistant. Kevin Good who was with us for a long, long time, served in the role and, you know, this is not unlike kind of a chief of staff role in helping Rodney with all the myriad other duties as assigned and there's a lot of them inside State Parks. And so Aaron will help with supporting Allison and David with all the myriad legislative related issues associated with State Parks, Commission related interests, local and political officials, special projects, et cetera. Brings a great background to this.

He started off in our business management team in State Parks, work on promoting state parks. He was a local park grant specialist. So he worked with communities all over the state to affect grants and projects that y'all recommended and approved around Texas. He's just very enthusiastic about this position and I think he's going to do a fabulous job supporting Rodney and Justin and the Commission and the Department in this role. So congratulations to Aaron.

Also fun to see recognition for our team across the -- across the state and this is really a public/private partnership of 15 or more members around the state, including Parks and Wildlife; but also groups like the Texas Forestry Association over in East Texas and the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Nature Conservancy and many others that were recently recognized by Texan by Nature and that's the organization created by Ms. Laura Bush to highlight successful and unique conservation projects around the state that are making a real difference for not only our natural resources, but also the related economic health of communities that depend upon those resources. And this longleaf, task force was created back in 2010 and they're focused on restoring those old iconic longleaf pine wire grass systems that historically you found from the Carolinas all the way to the east coast. Because of their value, they largely got cut over by let's just say the mid 1900s and what we have left are littles pockets of these longleaf pine ecosystems. And so there's a huge interest by landowners, foresters, forest ecologists, conservationists, biologists to restore those historic communities from everything, you know, Bob white quail, wild turkey, to things like, you know, Bachman's sparrows and Red-cockaded woodpeckers. And so a really, really ecologically diverse and desirable landscape through the south and this team is doing a terrific job and Stephen Lange, our Regional Director over in East Texas, very involved in this, as are many other partners. And I want to congratulate them for their work. It's kind of core stuff for the department.

Also nice to see when colleagues from our Department gets recognized by other agencies. In this case Travis Haug and Shane Horrocks, two game wardens working with a game warden from Florida and a couple of colleagues from the Department of Public Safety were involved in a life-saving water rescue when an immigrant family who was crossing Rio Grande got swept up in flood waters, were swept downstream, and were it not for the actions of these five men and two our game wardens, those lives would have been lost. And we don't who those individuals are. We don't know their names. We'll probably never see them, but they can -- they can thank these fine men for their lives being saved and I think that's an important element that the Commission understands that while we carry out our part of the important work of border enforcement and so forth, that our officers are out there wherever needed saving lives and along that river that happens with some frequency.

So kudos to Shane and Travis for their recognition by Colonel McCraw there at DPS and I appreciate Steve and his team taking the time to acknowledge the important service and selfless work of our team. So kudos to them.

Another promotion that I want to mention, Carmen Rickel is our new Lieutenant of fisheries enforcement, working with Les Casterline, our Assistant Chief over Fisheries enforcement. Couldn't ask for a better person in this role than Carmen. She started out her career at the Department as a state park police officer. She worked at Lake Corpus Christi State Park and Falcon Lake State Park. Did a terrific job there. Decided she wanted to be a game warden. She applied, was accepted to academy, went through that. She was stationed down in Cameron Country and then joined our Marine Tactical Group Team and really knows that deep Rio Grande Valley border environment -- Boca Chica, the river, the Gulf -- better than Carmen and just did a terrific job serving on our Marine Tactical Operations Group, where she spent a lot of time intercepting launches or illegal fishing vessels that were coming in from Mexico, putting out gillnets and longlines in the Gulf and illegally, you know, harvesting our sharks and snapper, trout, and Redfish and Carmen just did a fabulous job on that and many, many other duties.

But she started her work here as lieutenant and she'll do a great job with our Law Enforcement leadership team; but also just as importantly, working with Craig and Robin and their team, just to make sure that the regulations that the Commission puts forward that biological basis for that are appropriately enforced and LE is part and parcel of those discussions in the management and stewardship of our fisheries resources. She brings a lot to the table.

I wanted to update you on kind of -- and I'm not sure it's really new, but the elements of this is new from our Inland Fisheries team, our habitat and angler Access Program. Y'all are obviously familiar with the freshwater fish stamp that you have to purchase when fishing legally on freshwater, public waterbodies in the state.

Historically, the funds generated from that stamp or endorsement were restricted for the use of the construction and repair of fish hatcheries, as well as the purchase of fish for stocking, like all of the Rainbow trout stocking that y'all are familiar with that our team does during the winter months. Through the leadership of Craig and his team, we went to the Legislature and asked if we could also expand the allowable purposes of the proceeds from the stamp to include investments in fisheries and aquatic habitat and also facilitating more angular access, opportunities for people to get out and fish. You know, the Inland Fisheries team motto is making fishing better and our state they live and breathe that every day.

That also corresponded with work that our team had done with the National Reservoir Fish Habitat Action Project to help restore and enhance habitats, and reservoirs, their work on streams throughout the state. So it was good timing to work with the Legislature on that. They granted us that authority and also gave us a half million dollars in authority to invest in projects to improve aquatic habitat and improve angler access. So the team went out with a call for proposals. Twenty-one communities responded with projects about how that might improve access or habitats. You know, everything from fishing piers and kayak launches, improving shoreline access for fishing, put aeration systems in water that need more oxygenation and so forth.

And so the teams selected 21 projects out of the competitive process and you can see kind of a smattering of those. You know, in the hill country then down in the Rio Grande Valley or, you know up at Early and so forth.

So we're really excited, Craig, about the launch of that look and forward at seeing the outcomes of those projects. But, again, just know team is very, very focused on partnering with communities on how we make fishing better in the state. So very, very focused on partnering with communities on how we make fishing better in the state. So more to come on that front.

One of the -- I think y'all know this. Clearly, one of the core functions of our park rangers in the parks, our state park police officers, and our game wardens is search and rescue. You know, it's not at all uncommon for citizens and outdoor enthusiasts to get lost, to be missing, to get disoriented, to get injured, to have things go awry when they're in the outdoors on land and water. And so the men and women on the front lines that are trained to facilitate that are oftentimes inside this Agency. Again, your park rangers, your state park police officers, and your game wardens.

Just to kind of put a little more granularity to that. You know, during the course of, you know, this -- this fiscal year alone, the team has already responded to, you know, a little over 400 plus search-and-rescue incidents. And so, you know, in the parks, you know, that ranges from everything from, you know, a couple that's out in the wilds of Big Bend Ranch State Park, they get dehydrated, the get disoriented, one wanders off and gets lost and our state park police officers have got to be the ones that lead the search-and-rescue team to go find them and recover them in what is otherwise, you know, very difficult terrain and hard and to navigate. You know, or incidents where hikers will venture off to, you know, go see an attractive nuisance. You know, a cliff face at Palo Dura Canyon or Caprock Canyon State Park and then they start to, you know, make choices climbing down cliffs and get stuck and can't get out and night falls and people get scared and can't go up or down and so our state park police officers, you know, will need to be there to lead efforts to come in and rescue them from situations that they've got themselves in.

So our park officers just do a fabulous, fabulous job with that every day in the parks in terms of keeping people safe. Similarly our game wardens are doing the same thing in lands and waters around the -- around the state. And, you know, as an example you can see a boat stuck. An example, couple of fishermen fishing up from Lake Amistad. You've got all those silty islands there in the river. They're basically like quicksand. You get out in them, you're not getting out. And so, you know, our game wardens, in this case, go. You can't get there by boat. You can't get there by wading to it. And so, you know, they find them. They call in a helicopter and then use a helicopter hoist to rescue the fishermen from the -- that quicksand to silt there in the river. Or, you know, a kid wanders off, you know, in the afternoon into the woods and can't be found. You know, our game wardens are called to help with that.

So the team uses all kinds of tools for that. UAVs, helicopters, airplanes, canines, coordinating rescue by foot with other emergency management and first responders and just to a terrific job on that. And I want to applaud those men and women who do so much to keep the public safety and the public safe and are there when the public needs them the most. So kudos to -- kudos to them and their efforts.

Last but not least, I want to talk about the event and incidents of last week at Bastrop and the state park and particularly the Rolling Pines fire update as it is formally called. And I want to share just a quick update with the Commission about the events leading up to the escaped fire, the prescribed fire. You know, what happened when the incident changed from a prescribed fire to a wildfire and how that event and incident was managed. And then I want to talk about what our next steps are as to how we learn from this and how we get better and how we grow and how we continue to carry out prescribed fire safely in our state.

I think this Commission knows this fully, but I want to say it. Prescribed fire is a critically important management tool and many, if not most, landscapes and habitats across our state, we need prescribed fire to help manage these natural areas. Sometimes it's to manage fuel loads. It's to mitigate risk for wildfires. It's to restore habitat. It's to set back successional stages. It's to recover rare and imperiled species. It's to control invasive and exotic species. There are lots of reasons why prescribed fire is very thoughtfully and judicially applied on the landscape, but it is critical that we do that. And that includes iconic places like Bastrop and the Lost Pines Forest. If we don't manage that forest, that forest will manage us and prescribed fire is a critically important tool in terms of helping to mitigate situations and circumstances that otherwise could be catastrophic.

All of you remember, of course, 2011 and the fire season across Texas; but specifically at Bastrop where over 30,000 acres were burned. Several thousand homes were lost, including 30 to 40 owned by employees of this Department and several lives were lost in that catastrophic fire. There was another wildfire within that community in 2015 and so it's safe to say that the communality around Bastrop and their psyche around fire is a very sensitive one and understandably so. And so any -- any evidence or signs of fire can cause lots angst and concern within that community, as it can in other communities around the -- around the state. But Bastrop, I have to say, particularly so given the recent events that have unfolded.

And so the question is: How do we mitigate that risk, you know, of escaped fires? How do we safely carry this out? How do we so in a way that we'll continue to maintain the public's trust and confidence and a tool that we have to have to steward and manage landscapes across Texas?

We have formal prescribed fire teams inside the Agency, inside our Wildlife Division and insider our State Parks Division. They burn according to what are considered the best in class standards. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group standards or what you'll hear as NWCG is the acronym and that's a set of the national standards for education, training, and certification that firefighters, wildland firefighters have to go before they're allowed to participate in a prescribed fire, as well as participate in the management of a wildfire. So those are very rigorous standards. There's annual certification and education updates, physical readiness standards, and each prescribed fire is managed through a very rigid incident command in which people have very defined and specific duties for which they are uniquely qualified to do. So somebody's position otherwise professionally has absolutely no bearing with their role here. They've got to be equipped and prepared for the position they do.

So prescribed fire is a calculated risk, but we do everything we can do mitigate that through the rigorous implementation and application of these national wildfire coordinating group standards.

What you also need to know is that occasionally things happen on prescribed fires. Occasionally, we have escaped fires. That happens. What you also need to know is the teams that put in place the burn plans prior to launching those fires anticipate that possibility. They plan for it and so they're ready for it when it happens. And then if we're ready for it those quick actions save property and they save lives and that's very, very important that you understand that critical element of application of prescribed fire with this department.

So let's turn our attention Bastrop State Park and what transpired last week. On this map, you'll see an outline of Bastrop State Park. It's like a boot or a backwards L. Everything shaded is the state park. There to the north, you can see Lake Bastrop and the LCRA power plant over there. A little hard to see on this map, but to north and west of the park is Highway 21 leading out of Bastrop. To the south is 71. So there's a V there and the park sits within that V and Buescher State Park -- or Buescher State Park is just to the east there.

This map you can see all of those little units that are delimited or delineated there in yellow are burn units and so our fire team has identified these individual units, things similar to topography soils, vegetation, defining boundaries from which the team will use to carry out prescribed fires. And so when they -- when they plan for a prescribed fire, they do it by units. And up there in that kind of northeastern corner of that part of the park that's hatched, Units 14 and 20, that's where the prescribed fire was planned for Tuesday of last week.

Now, the preparations for a prescribed fire, whether it's Bastrop or anywhere else, are launched months in advance and, you know, plans are developed, partners are engaged, notifications are made to elected officials and surrounding neighbors and, of course, plans and provisions are made in the event that something goes awry. And so on the -- on the day of the fire, our qualified trained burn boss goes through a checklist on a go/no-go list, you know, looking at things like the weather parameters and the planned or the future weather forecast to make sure they're within the appropriate burn prescription. They'll do a test fire to make sure that the fire is behaving as they anticipate. You know, there's safety checks and there's a whole suite of protocols before the burn boss makes a decision that we're going to light this fire and go and only the burn boss gets to -- gets to make that decision.

So Tuesday of last week around 10:30, a decision was made to commence with that fire. About two hours into that fire, spotting -- so fires outside of the burn unit -- were starting to be noticed. And efforts to put out those spots were unsuccessful. And so our burn boss made the very quick and early and wise decision to ask for help and to call in resources for from Bastrop County, the City of Bastrop, the Division of Emergency Management, A&M Forrest Service to bring in firefighters to come in to help with containing the fire.

An independent review of this fire will further address and answer this question; but, you know, my perspective is that quick action by our burn boss probably saved property and lives in recognizing quickly that we needed to get help.

I told you that as part of the planning for a prescribe fire is an anticipation that a fire may get away and what to do about it. And when a decision is made to transition or what's called conversion of a prescribed fire to a wildfire, then a whole other set of circumstances take effect. And within one hour, an entire incident command post was stood up at Bastrop State Park. That was led by one of the fire chiefs from A&M Forest Service who are in charge of wildland firefighting in the state. That individual, Rich Gray, took command of the fire and was in charge of all of the operational related response to containing and fighting that fire, defending property, and ensuring that the public would be safe.

He was joined by the County Judge Paul Pape, the Chief Emergency Management Officer for that. And Rich and Judge Pape serve as kind of co-leads with the Judge making decisions about closing roads or evacuating residents, setting up emergency shelters, communicating to the public, and kind of serving as the lease spokesperson and strategizing with the incident commander about what was. Again the preparedness for that and the quick actions huge and the response was nothing short of herculean. Dozens, if not hundreds of firefighters converged on the area. City of Elgin, City of Bastrop, communities all over Bastrop County, firefighters from San Antonio, New Braunfels, Lago Vista, and all over were called and were ready, expected to be called in and were to be put on the fire and with Rich's leadership, then were placed in areas to defend vulnerable structures, houses, communities. Again, the places with the highest risk. And that included dozens of firefighters from Parks and Wildlife and our State Parks and Wildlife Division.

The actions of those firefighters, the law enforcement officers, state park police officers, game wardens, DPS troopers, sheriffs deputies, the firefighters, emergency management professionals, again, saved lives. Tuesday was harrowing. And the Judge made a decision that evening to evacuate roughly -- and I'm going to say roughly just because my numbers may not be exactly right -- but 250 homes from kind of that northern area around the park and as you think about Bastrop State Park, think about an area that is at what's call the urban rural interphase and you've got lots of small tracks and homes and to the north, you have small, little residential communities, rural areas, lots of vegetation, lots of flammable materials. So the judge made the decision to evacuate those homes, set up shelter for them. I believe 12 families were put up that night. And thankfully within 24 hours, they were able to get back into their homes.

The firefighters and emergency management personnel did an extraordinary job containing that fire through the night. The next day at low ceiling, high relative humidity, had support from the Texas National Guard bringing in air tankers to drop fire retardant, Black Hawks from the Army to bring in water. All of that, again, with the firefighters, our Department, our game wardens had a UAV that was set up to identify and spot hot spots and then the firefighters could go put those out. Everybody just did an extraordinary job.

Wednesday night was another source of great concern because of the arrival of a cold front and very significant winds and so the firefighters had made lots and lots of efforts defending the perimeters and protecting property. That outline in red shows the area that was ultimately burned from the fire and those firefighters worked and officers worked through the night in very, very cold, icy conditions with unpredictable winds and were able to hold those lines.

And so Thursday morning was good news in terms of the level of containment and the fact that those perimeters withstood the wind gusts that were there. By Friday, additional significant progress was made and by Sunday, the incident command was able to significantly scale back the resources on the fire. As of today, what we know is that roughly 812 acres outside of the park were burned on generally three tracts of private lands. We lost no houses. No one was injured and no lives were lost and that was due, again, to all of those factors that I mentioned earlier, not the least of which were the extraordinary efforts by the men and women on the emergency management and firefighting and law enforcement. Just did an extraordinary job and would be remiss if I did not publicly acknowledge Judge Pape for his leadership, A&M Forest Service in particular, and the incident commanders who led that, the Bastrop Fire Chief, the Elgin Fire Chief, fire departments from all over Central Texas that responded, the emergency management district at Bastrop, the EMTs that came, the firefighters from Parks and Wildlife, which there were dozens of law enforcement officers, Rodney and Justin and Clayton were on that fire throughout its duration to make sure that resources were there and provided by the Department in support of the incident commander and the Judge. Our communications team was embedded with the Public Information team to make sure that information was getting out to the public about what was -- what was transpiring.

So that's what we know about the fire as of today. This week, Rodney and his team from State Parks and A&M Forest Service and they continue to just kind of routinely patrol the perimeter just to make sure that there are not any hot spots that pop up and that can happen after a wildfire. And, again, just to make sure that we're focused on protecting our neighbors and that's where our focus has been since the fire left the park boundaries.

So where do we go from here? And in the wildland fire world with escaped fires on a prescribed fire, there's a well-established process by which we look to outside experts with specific knowledge and expertise and experience to come in and conduct an independent review of the circumstances and events surrounding the fire to look at and make sure that the plans that were put in place conformed to the standards by which we hold ourselves to, to make sure we follow the procedures and protocols inside the plan and that when we executed that burn, that we followed those procedures and parameters and then once it was clear that the fire was outside of the park boundaries, what was our reaction time and what did we do and how did that handle it.

Ultimately, what we want are lessons learned. We want to know what happened and why. We want to hear from an independent panel what we can learn from this and what we can do better as we continue to carry out prescribed fire safely and thoughtfully and with the public's confidence and trust and the landscapes and habitats in public and private -- and lands that we're charged to manage and help to conserve and enhance.

And so we've worked with the A&M Forest Service and Chairman Aplin is very aware of this to assemble a panel of fire experts from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. A five-member team with experts from the Forestry and wildland firefighting agencies in the south with familiarity with the forest and fuel types that we're burning, experience with burning on public and private lands. We have asked them to come in and conduct an independent review of this burn and their narrative and their facts will be the facts and we'll follow the facts and we'll learn from them and we'll grow from them and we'll be better from them.

They will be in Texas this week and will started that review on Friday. At this juncture, I don't have a specific time to give you as to the timeline by which they will complete that review and report what their findings and recommendations, but obviously we will keep the Commission closely apprised of that; but we've got the utmost most confidence in these experts. I don't know any of them personally. Just I know who they are and what their qualifications are and that that they hold respected positions and relevant positions of experience in their states and so we look forward to their independent review of this situation.

I'll also state clearly and perhaps I'm sure not surprisingly temporarily, obviously, we're going to suspend any prescribed fires that may be contemplated or planned at Bastrop and Buescher State Park until this review is completed and we have a chance to receive those recommendations, contemplate those recommendations, integrate those recommendations, and talk with the community and political leadership before we consider prescribed fire there at either of those parks. But, again, let me say those parks need prescribed fire and we've got to use prescribed fire going forward in managing them; but clearly the right thing to do is, is to get this review and get their findings and then we'll react accordingly.

You know, a question that may be on your mind, "What about other prescribed fires around the state," and we have those planned. Right now they are all undergoing another level of review to make sure that we feel like we're going to be able to safely carry those out. As the Chairman and I have discussed, at least temporarily, any burns that are planned in which there's a preexisting county burn ban, we're not going to be carrying those out this spring. And any burns that we otherwise might have planned in areas that we know is that kind of urban wildland interface like Bastrop, we're going to hold off on those until we have the benefits of this independent review and their findings and recommendations. Otherwise, again, we're going to taking a -- be taking a very, very close look at our plans going forward and our team has identified a higher level of burn boss, which will be overseeing any fires that we go forward with and will be providing even more resources to the fires.

And, you know, just as a point of fact for the Commission, the roughly -- let's call it 250-acre prescribed burn unit that we had at Bastrop, we had 24 firefighters on that fire. We had a dozer. We had a 750-gallon water truck. We had three brush trucks fully equipped, seven UTVs with water tanks on it. And so, you know, certainly that fire was, we believe, well-resourced; but again, this independent review will take another look at it and anything we need to do be doing differently in the future we will. But for the time being, we'll even provide more resources to our prescribed fires just because I think it's important for this Commission to understand you-all understand fully that prescribed fire is vital to what we do with our growing population, with our urbanization, with our fragmentation of lands and more people living in kind of the rural/urban interface -- and particularly around public lands that we manage -- carrying out prescribed fire is going to be harder, not easier. And so as we carry it out, we're going to have to continue to evolve or plans, our processes, our actions, our safety and operational standards to make sure that we can carry out our duties; but do so in ways that are safe for the community around us.

And so we look forward to continuing to update the Commission as we go forward on that front and rest assured, we'll keep you apprised of this review process.

With that, Mr. Chairman, that concludes my remarks and I'd be happy to answer any questions that you or any of the Commissioners may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Carter.

Commissioners, any thoughts, questions, comments on any of Carter's points he spoke about?

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: This is Commissioner Rowling. How much land do we target amongst the, I guess, one and a half million between the WMAs and state parks? What do we target annual to prescribe burn?

MR. SMITH: You know, that's a great question and I don't know if I have specific answer to that; but I can get that for you. I would say it's -- you know, we dozens of prescribed fires in a year and tens of thousands of acres that we burn, depending upon the area. I'll get you numbers about what we've targeted and then what we've been able to do depending upon the burn windows. And remember, we're burning not just on the public lands that we manage; but also we provide assistance in certain cases on private lands. But we'll get you those numbers. Yeah, good question.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody else? Paul? No?

Quick -- quick comment. When this fire broke, out all hands on deck and then some to focus on the issue at hand and there were just amazing the response that we got from these communities and from everyone involved and it was just -- it was just excellent. As soon as that was completed, Carter, you went to work instantly trying to get through the process, independent review so we can get better.

And I submit that you got that done. The fire was, for all practical purposes, out Sunday and what's today -- Wednesday? So thank you for not dragging your feet and the community and everyone should know that we're going to have a full independent research report on this and get it done. I don't know how you could do it any faster. And the people that we have coming from the different states from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, it's just a phenomenal group that's been put together and we'll learn from this and we'll get better.

But I submit to you, as Carter said, that these prescribed burns are critical to us managing our habitat; but it's also critical that we're the best we can possibly be in protecting property. And so thank you for moving so fast on that and we look forward to their findings and we will obviously report them as soon as we get them.

MR. SMITH: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. If there's no other questions or comments by the Commission, we'll move on to Work Session Item No. 2, it's the final -- Financial Update. Reggie, where are you? There you are.

MR. PEGUES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my is Reggie Pegues, Chief Financial Officer, and I'll be covering the following topics. And before I get started, this is pretty much all good news for you. So this is going to be a fun presentation. I'll be covering the FY '21 yearend revenue summaries, FY '22 revenue summaries through December, and FY '22 budget adjustments through December.

Starting with FY '21, I'm going to go over our three main revenue sources: License revenue, state revenue, and boat revenue. And with each revenue source, I'm going to cover a five-year summary, monthly comparison, and then a two-year comparison between FY '21 and FY '20.

Starting with license revenue comparison, we had record 116 million for the FY '21. This beats the previous record of 114 million established last year in FY '20 and so these two years are -- you can see they're pretty much higher than the prior three years. This is kind of due to the impact of the COVID.

Next, moving to the monthly comparison. Again, this follows our seasonal pattern with approximately 70 percent of the revenue occurring from September through December. There was a slight dip in February, if you recall the winter storm that we had last year. But after that, revenues rebounded to about approximately 6 million for the remainder of the year, finishing at 116 million.

This next is FY '21/FY '20 comparison. Again, revenues were pretty strong across all categories. You'll notice a slight dip in resident fish, a reduction of 7.3 percent. Nothing I wanted you to be alarmed about. This is only in comparison to the prior year, which was in itself a great year. Moving down to non-residential fish, you'll see a million dollar increase from 5.9 million to 4.9. This is primarily due to a relaxing of the COVID restrictions that we had FY '20 that weren't there in FY '21. So that was a rebound in revenue. Other categories are pretty much consistent.

Next, I'll be moving over to state parks revenue. Again, FY '21 was another record year for state parks. Revenues were 66.7 million, beating the previous record in FY '17 of 55 million and beating last year by over 40 percent. Monthly comparison revenues were pretty strong throughout the entirety of FY '21. And again you'll notice a slight dip in FY '21 again. This was the impact of the winter storm.

And here's the side-by-side comparison of FY '20 -- '20 to '21. Pretty much strong increases across all categories, specifically in entrance and facility fees. Basically, you know, more people showing up. Paid visits were 6.7 million and total visits were right under 10 million.

Next, moving on to boat revenue. Again, another record year. FY '21 revenues were right at 25.8 million, beating the prior record in FY '20 of 22 million. And here's the monthly breakdown. Pretty much followed the season pattern, strong towards the end of the fiscal year to finish out at 25.8 million. And here's the breakdown between 2021 by revenue type. The 13 one -- point -- 13.1 percent increase is primarily due to more buying and selling of boats in FY '21 versus FY '20, accounting for the 13.1 percent increase.

Next, I'll be moving to FY '22 summaries through December. Again, starting with license revenue. These revenues are pretty much on tract with the prior year. Approximately we're trailing by about half a million dollars. So there's the potential for another record year for license revenue. Monthly comparison, we see the seasonal trend emerging. The majority in September, tapering off in October through December; but pretty much what we expected to see.

Here's the side-by-side comparison of '21 and '22. You'll notice a decrease in resident fish and hunt. Again, this is only a comparison to the record year of FY '21; but it still exceeds the prior years. And you'll also notice a flip in nonresident fish and hunt. An increase again with a relaxing of the COVID restrictions of FY '20, more people are coming to the state in FY '21, accounting for that increase.

Moving over to state parks, we're actually exceeding last year's record pace. We're slightly ahead, but this may be another record year for state park. Again, we've got strong months of September through December, pretty strong. We expect that to maintain for the remainder of the year, barring any unforeseen, you know, circumstances like another storm.

Here this is kind of an interesting slide. This is our comparison of '22 to '21. You'll see a slight decrease in entrance fees and paid visits, but we have total -- we have more revenue. What's happening is fewer people went to the parks; but those people that did go, there was more for them to spend money on. So there was an actually increase. If you see activities/concessions, big 46 percent increase.

Moving over to boat revenues, for FY '22 we're slightly behind the pace of FY '21; but if you remove FY '21, which was kind of an odd year, and you look at the prior years FY '18 through '20, we're still exceeding that pace by, you know, at least a million. Monthly comparison, we see the seasonal pattern again emerging with boat revenue. Year to date revenue is again we're 13.4 percent behind FY '21. But again, record -- FY '21 was itself a record year. So we're doing overall compared to those prior years.

Next, I'll be going through our budget adjustment through December. And just a reminder, as part of our approval budget process in August, based on a recommendation from Commissioner Hildebrand, we identified potential adjustments that would occur during the fiscal year since our budget is pretty dynamic and what was approved in August was pretty much just a starting point. And over the year, we tend to grow our budget. And so we kind of wanted to give you a heads up on those potential types of adjustments: Federal funds appropriated, receipts, any type of special legislation that came through. And so now we've actually realized these amounts, and I'd like to just go through them.

So beginning with the $518 million approved in August, we have budget adjustments of 203 million, giving us an adjusted budget of -- at December -- of 721 million. First increase was our operational funds for House Bill 2. House Bill 2 was the supplemental appropriation which appropriated an additional 22 million to the Agency over and beyond what was in the Appropriation Act. Of that 22 million, 1.3 was for implementation for ongoing costs for our accounting system know as CAPPS. The remaining of that is included in the capital construction UB. This includes 15 million of transportation items and 6.5 million for the Law Enforcement helicopter.

Federal UB 159.3 million, this is larger than the amount usually because part of this is COVID related. Of this 159, 90 million is related to local parks and this was related to the delays in getting grants out the door. Luckily we have the authority to bring those funds forward and so we can just execute those in FY '22. Appropriated receipts, these are primarily donations of artificial reefs that we have authority to bring in one year and UB to the next year.

As I mentioned, the capital construction UB, part of this is the House Bill 2 supplemental for the helicopter and transportation items and a slight adjustment to the estimated construction that was in original appropriation. So it nets to 15.5 million.

This next category is for fringe and fringe benefits are retirement, insurance. These things are driven by our employees. So if we pay actions, terminations, new hires, these affect the fringe that we -- merit promotion -- these amounts are adjusted based on those actions, getting us to the total budget of 721.7 million.

And that concludes my presentation. I'll be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions for Reggie?

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: I guess the only question I have is do we expect the trend to continue the way, you know, with these high levels or was this kind of a one-time COVID phenomenon? What are you seeing out there?

MR. PEGUES: As I showed on the boat revenues, we saw that decrease of 13 percent. So I think things are kind of going back to pre-COVID levels, with the exception of the state park revenues. We may set another record. So I expect revenues to finish pretty strong. You know, the things we can't control are the weather and any other COVID impacts may impact the numbers; but we expect to finish pretty strong. Whether or not it's a record year, that kind of remains to be seen.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Chairman, I have a question. This is Commissioner Bell. Reggie, the -- with the trend that we have, I'm just wondering -- to tag on to Commissioner Foster's question -- the -- maybe there's a COVID piece, but isn't there also a piece where we're doing a lot more work internally to kind of advertise and push and try to get people out to state parks? We have the -- we have our Triple R Program that we're trying to push out there that maybe -- I mean, maybe these things are kind of going -- happening concurrently, maybe feeding each other.

It'd be interesting to know if we could find any -- if there's any way to separate any of that detail to see if that extra advertising and push is helping us because whenever, you know, historically you do an advertising campaign to push something, what you're looking for, is you're looking for that bump up and you're trying to establish a new normal so that when your -- when your campaign is done, where you were -- as you know, where you were before, hopefully that level, that campaign when it ends and starts to taper off, leaves you at a higher level than you were because we're still seeing -- and it is -- this is COVID related. A lot of people that are just kind of city to suburb, suburb to country and -- and I think that lifestyle thing is maybe impacting what people are doing. Any thoughts?

MR. PEGUES: Yeah, I think the difficulty is those two are kind of intertwined over the last couple years; but, I mean, we also have efforts to increase attendance and sale of licenses. So I think you're correct, that probably is a part of it. We can look into the numbers and see if we can dissect which is non-COVID related and which is these promotion efforts.

MR. SMITH: But I think to your point, Commissioner, both of your points, this is an opportunity for us. You know, I'm not sure we can squeeze any more people inside the state parks without opening new parks. You know, we have so much demand for them. But on the hunting and fishing and boating side and you mentioned the R3 efforts and the strategic plan that we have, this is a huge opportunity for us and all of our partners to capture and try to do everything we can to incentivide -- incentivize continued use of the outdoors by folks that either are new to those activities or ones that, for whatever reason, abandoned them and are now coming back during this time of COVID and so that is and will be an integral part of this R3 plan related going forward. And certainly our Communications team with their marketing and advertising -- although understand, please, their resources are very limited and that's a whole other conversation that I know Michelle wants us to continue to focus on -- are going to be important in terms of driving those activities. So strategically you're 100 percent right there.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Well, and the only reason I ask the question is because with helping work with this, the outreach committee that we're working with, with the whole -- which the whole Commission has endorsed, that's -- we've been talking a lot about those programs understanding that. So there's a -- we're trying -- maybe there's another sideline effort that hopefully will come online and help us continue with numbers near this. I mean, obviously you can't have a record every year; but if you can, that's fabulous, right?

MR. PEGUES: Yeah, hopefully we can at least stay at these levels, you know, somewhat.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Thank you for the information.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. Any other Commissioners?


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Reggie, I'm sorry. I didn't follow the $160 million budget adjustment from federal.


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: I didn't follow what that was.

MR. PEGUES: So the 159 federal adjustment, those were federal funds we received in '20 that we have authority to carry to '21. We typically do that every year, but not to the tune of 159 million. What was driving that is we have some grants in local parks that weren't executed in FY '21, about 90 million of that. And so that grant funding was carried into FY '22.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Is that related to COVID or nothing to do with?

MR. PEGUES: COVID, it was delays in federal spending and getting these projects off the ground.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: So more federal funds due to COVID or --


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Is this an annual deal or is this a huge one-time? The adjustment's just massive. So I'm curious.

MR. PEGUES: No, these are the typical funds. It was just due to the -- just delays in getting the programs off the ground due to some of the COVID restrictions. But these are just our regular base funds. It just happens to be a higher amount going from this year from '20 into '21.

MR. SMITH: Well, I think, Reggie, though in fairness to the Commissioner's question, I mean, there are more federal funds that are now coming through land and water conservation fund as the result of the Great American Outdoors Act. So we have seen an uptick in federal funds.

What you're seeing is a cascading effect of the impacts of COVID in terms of the sluggishness by which the funds are coming from the federal government to us. The kind of environmental and cultural and engineering related studies that have to be done by our local park grant partners before they can begin their projects and access these funds. So there's all kinds of levels of slowness that have caused this.

Hopefully, we can get past that and you won't see this kind of a big lag in federal funds; but it's kind of a cascading effect of multiple factors, if that makes sense.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Blake.

Anybody else got any questions for Reggie?

Thank you, sir.

MR. PEGUES: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 3 is our Internal Audit, Ms. Brandy Meeks. Hello, Brandy.

MS. MEEKS: Good morning.


MS. MEEKS: Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Brandy Meeks. I'm the Internal Audit Director. This morning I'd like to update you on the fiscal year '21 and '22 internal audit plans, as well as discuss recent external audits and assessments.

So this and the next slide are going to show the status of our fiscal year '21 internal audit plan. And as you can see, all of our performance, IT and cybersecurity and follow-ups are complete, as well as our ten state park fiscal control audits. So I can stand here and say that fiscal year '21 audit plan is complete.

As far as the fiscal year '22 internal audit plan, our audit of selected contracts is currently in the quality assurance phase. Our IT cybersecurity project, the CAPPS HR and FR project is currently on hold until we hire a new IT auditor and we have also completed the Q1 follow-up and status report and are starting to follow-up on our Q2 recommendations.

We do have 20 fiscal control audits on our plan this year. We have started on just about all of our state park fiscal control audits. Only one has not been started. One is in the planning phase, four are in the fieldwork phase, two are in the quality assurance phase, and two are in reporting and we will soon be starting our law enforcement offices fiscal control audits.

As far as special projects and administrative duties, since the last Commission Meeting, numbers two and three under administrative duties are new. We are filling four auditor vacancies right now. We've posted the positions. We've closed the positions. We have some really good candidates that we're going to start interviewing. And we will also be participating -- we'll actually be leading the Texas Department of Insurance's peer review this year in March.

As far as external audits and assessments, we do have four underway right now. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is doing two of those. They are reviewing our civil rights compliance. So that is going on right now. That is supposed to be an on-site review that will take place in the next few months. And then we -- they are also finishing up a wildlife and sport fish -- sport fish restoration program grant audit.

The SAO is also in-house. They are conducting an audit of our capital assets right now and they are also monitoring our -- they're doing a contract monitoring assessment and that happens with all the top 25 state agencies.

And that concludes my presentation. I'm available to answer any questions you may have.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Any questions by the Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Just a quick question. When you were talking about your open staff position, I'm curious to know how staffing is going in general. It's -- what I hear across the state is it's just almost impossible to find people right now.

MS. MEEKS: You know, I was relatively surprised by the applications that we got in-house for the positions that we posted. I'm very encouraged. I've only have one interview so far, but I -- on paper, we have gotten some good candidates that I look forward to speaking with.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Well, glad to hear that.



MS. MEEKS: You too, thank you.

Any other questions?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any other questions for Brandy?

Thank you.

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 4, Implementation of Legislation During the 87 Texas Legislative Session, House Bill 1927, Relating to Provisions Governing the Carrying of a Firearm, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Mr. Luis Sosa. How are you?

MR. SOSA: Good morning. Doing good. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Luis Sosa. I'm the Chief of Staff for the Law Enforcement Division. I'm here today to provide a summary over rule changes that were published in the December 24th, 2021, issue of the Texas Register and they relate to the rules governing the possession, display, and use of firearms in state parks, wildlife management areas, and coastal management areas in response to the passage of House Bill 1927 during the 87th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature.

Under the provisions of House Bill 1927, a person 21 years of age or older who is not otherwise prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a firearm, may carry a handgun provided that it is concealed or in a holster without a permit in any location where possession is not expressly prohibited by statute or prohibited pursuant to statutory authority granted by statute.

Under the provisions of House Bill 1927, the Commission does not have the authority to establish regulations to modify or prohibit the effect of this bill. Provisions of House Bill 1927 impact current Department rules governing the possession and display of handguns by visitors in state parks, wildlife management areas, and coastal management areas and, therefore, it is simply our intent to harmonize Department rules with provisions of House Bill 1927.

Regarding state parks, under our current rules it is an offense for a person to display a firearm, even if it is partially wholly visible and holstered in a state park unless the person is participating in an authorized public hunting activity or the person is licensed to carry.

Regarding wildlife management areas, under our current rules it is an offense for a person to possess a firearm on public lands unless the person is authorized to hunt or conduct research in the area, is a commissioned peace officer or is a Department employee performing their duties.

And under -- coastal management areas, under our current rules it is an offense for a person to display a firearm except while hunting migratory game birds.

As mentioned earlier, the proposed rule changes were published in the December 24th, 2021, Register. Since then, we have received 13 comments through the public comment portal. Of the 13 comments, nine individuals agreed completely, three disagreed completely, and one disagrees on a specific item. Of the three individuals that disagree completely, only one provided a reason. As per this one individual, they disagreed with House Bill 1927 and, therefore, they disagree with anything related to that bill. The one individual that disagreed on a specific item, also provided a reason. As per this one individual, they just feel that the language is lengthy and confusing.

Our goal is simply to align Department rules governing the possession and display of handguns with provisions of House Bill 1927. The proposal amendments which have been provided to you, would alter our current rules to the effect of ensuring that Department regulations regarding the possession and the display of handguns in state parks, wildlife management areas, and coastal management areas do not conflict with the provisions of House Bill 1927.

Tomorrow our staff will be recommending adoption of the changes of Texas Administrative Code as published in the December 24th, 2021, issue of the Texas Register and related to the rules governing the possession, display, and use of firearms in state parks, wildlife management areas, and coastal management areas in response to the passage of House Bill 1927. Thank you for your consideration. At this time, I'd be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions?

COMMISSIONER BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. My question --

MR. SOSA: Yes.

COMMISSIONER BELL: -- so state for me what will be the rule, so to speak. So I go to a state park and what's my -- what's my new rule? And I'm only interested from -- like from -- this is different because it's a state. But from an employment practice's perspective, employers are allowed to state whether they want people to have a weapon on their property, whether it's open carry or concealed. So what's our -- what's our final verdict going to be on --

MR. SOSA: So right now, for example, in the state park, you can carry if you're licensed to carry.

COMMISSIONER BELL: So the Constitutional carry, doesn't the license provision essentially -- doesn't the concealed provision --

MR. SOSA: That's right.

COMMISSIONER BELL: -- essentially go away?

MR. SOSA: That's right. So our rules now specify that you must be licensed to carry. So we're making the adjustment to allow you to carry without a license to carry.


MR. SOSA: Yes.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other questions, Commissioners?


MR. SOSA: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Commission Foster. When did -- when does this -- has this law already gone into effect?

MR. SOSA: Yes, sir.


MR. SOSA: Yes, it is.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: And have you seen any change in behavior? I mean, is it -- is it noticeable to you? Is it -- has it impacted --

MR. SOSA: We haven't --

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: -- your staff or --

MR. SOSA: -- seen any impact specific to this change. I've been working real closely with our partners in state parks, Chief Wes Masur, our Chief of State Parks Police. They have not seen any changes. In addition to that, as mentioned during the last Commission Meeting, we reached out to several partners outside of the State of Texas. We reached out to 21 states that have Constitutional carry and they have not seen an increase in their state parks with related to open carry.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other questions, comments by Commissioners?

If there are no further questions, I'll place this item on the agenda for Thursday's Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Thank you, Luis.

MR. SOSA: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Moving on. Work Session Item No. 5, Parkland Passport Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Mr. David Kurtenbach. David, how are you?

MR. KURTENBACH: I'm doing well, sir. Yourself?

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. My name is David Kurtenbach. I'm the Program Director for the Business Management in State Parks. Today I'm here to talk to you about our Parklands Passport Program. So I'll provide an overview of the program, talk about the proposed changes to it, as well as a summary of the public comment.

So our Parklands Passport Program provides passes to individuals who meet eligibility requirements for one of the four passes. And what this does is it gives the benefit of free or reduced entry fee for that individual who is the passport holder. And added benefit to it is it also allows for one accompanying person to join that passport holder at a 50 percent entrance fee discounted to them. So it's really just two people that really benefit from it.

And as I said, there's four different passes. So I'll talk a little bit about what those passes are. It's really three categories broken down into four types of passes. So you can see for senior citizens, disabled veterans, as well as persons with a disability, and there's different benefits and different eligibility requirements for each of these passes as you go through them.

The senior full allows for 100 percent entry, the senior partial allows for 50 percent entry, disabled veteran 100 percent, and disability is a 50. And then for each of these again, they can bring one accompanying person at 50 percent. And it gets a little bit more nuance because the senior partial allows for 50 percent rounded to the nearest dollar. Whereas the disability allows 50 percent. So it gets kind of in the muck, in the weeds of it all as you go through it.

The proposed change that we're looking at or that we are recommending is for that accompanying person to be able to have the exact same benefit for entry as the passport holder. So we don't have to worry about this person gets 50 percent rounded to the nearest dollar and this person gets a full 50 percent or 100 percent, 50 percent. We're putting it all together. So if a passport holder gets 100 percent, that accompanying person would get that 100 percent. And what this does is it really impacts the senior full, it impacts the disability veteran passport holders. Those are the two that have the 100 percent full waiver of free entry and that would be extended then to that accompanying person.

And the benefits that we're anticipating from this is while greater access to the parks, it definitely benefits on a customer service side getting people outdoors more; but it's also going to simply the program. Simplifying the program means it's going to be less work for our staff to understand it, easier for them to communicate with the public, institute and execute it at a more sufficient level and at that park level, for everybody to really just know kind of what it's about and what we're trying to do.

We did receive -- on this change, we had seven comments supporting it and three comments that were opposing. Of those three, only one -- or two of them provided a reason. One of them agreed with the change; but would have liked for it to include four people to get in as the accompanying person versus the one. And the other felt that if you're going to pay for your park usage or if you're going to use the park, you should pay to use that park and felt that it was welfare towards veterans and passport holders specifically.

That concludes my presentation. Happy to answer any questions y'all may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody questions for David?

Thank you.

I don't hear any questions, so then I'll place this item on Thursday's Commission Meeting agenda for public comment.

David, thank you.

MR. KURTENBACH: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Item No. 6, Aquatic Vegetation Management Rules, Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register, Ms. Monica McGarrity. How are you, Monica?

MS. MCGARRITY: How are you? Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Monica McGarrity and I'm the Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species Management. Today I'll be presenting on proposed changes to the rules pertaining to nuisance aquatic vegetation management.

Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 11 directs TPWD to adopt by rule a state aquatic vegetation management plan for public bodies of surface water. The plan addresses management of nuisance aquatic vegetation defined in brief as aquatic vegetation species with the potential to significantly interfere with the uses of a public body of surface water and all individuals managing aquatic vegetation must adhere to the plan.

A key requirement of this plan is that a nuisance aquatic vegetation treatment proposal must be submitted to the Department for approval prior to undertaking any efforts to manage nuisance aquatic vegetation using any methods, including physical removal and chemical control. The goals of the state plan are to ensure application of the principles of integrated pest management and provide oversight over habitat management efforts to ensure adequate protection of habitat for fish and wildlife and ensure responsible use of herbicides in public waters.

Aquatic vegetation can be separated into categories of submerged species, rooted species with floating leaves, emergent species along the shoreline, and floating species. For the purposes of these proposed rule changes, we're focusing on floating aquatic vegetation. This may consist of free-floating species not ordinarily rooted in the substrate, which includes exotic invasive species such as Giant Salvinia Water Hyacinth; but not rooted species with floating leaves such as Water Lilies or fragments of submerged species such as Hydrilla that have become dislodged through flooding, creating floating mats of plant material.

Floating aquatic vegetation poses a nuisance for waterfront landowners when it accumulates around docks and shorelines, impeding access for fishing, swimming, and boating; but can be relatively easily removed by raking. However, physical removal of even small quantities currently requires a treatment proposal. Unlike removal of submerged or rooted aquatic vegetation which provides important habitat for fish and wildlife, management of floating aquatic vegetation has minimal impacts on aquatic habitat and can even be beneficial when exotic invasive species are removed.

The proposed rule changes would create a definition for floating aquatic vegetation that encompasses both floating species of plants not ordinarily rooted in the substrate and floating mats of fragments of vegetation dislodged through natural processes such as flooding. The proposed rule changes would also create an exception from the treatment proposal requirement based on this definition for physical removal of floating aquatic vegetation by waterfront landowners and their agents from around docks and shorelines, provided compliance with transport and disposal requirements for exotic invasive species.

The exception would not extend to individuals removing vegetation for hirer or using mechanical harvesters, as these activities have the potential to be large scale, have more significant impacts on habitat, and potentially to spread exotic invasive species. The goal of the proposed rule is to reduce the administrative complexity for waterfront landowners who simply need to rake up small quantities of these species onto the shoreline for drying, composting, or disposing to alleviate their access issues.

The proposed rule exception would also reduce the administrative staff time for reviewing these proposals, as well as reduce staff time and alleviate logistical constraints for attempting to treat small quantities of remaining plants along shorelines with herbicide.

The Department has determined that removal of aquatic invasive plants is beneficial to the aquatic ecosystem and removal of small quantities of native floating aquatic plants is not detrimental. Furthermore, this activity does not present a risk of spreading aquatic invasive plants, provided compliance with regulations regarding possession, transport, and disposal of harmful or potentially harmful exotic aquatic plants.

And that concludes my presentation, and I'll be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Monica.

Commissioners, question? Comments?

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: I have a quick one. Is this a controversial issue?

MS. MCGARRITY: I would say that this is not controversial; but this is something that is a concern for many landowners when they need, you know, advice from the Department on how to manage this and then we have to tell them they need to submit a treatment proposal for something as simple as just raking up a small amount of vegetation. So this is something that definitely alleviate the concerns and the complexity of working through that process for many landowners.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good question, Commissioner Foster.

Anybody else?

This appears to me to be a real positive and so thank you for working through this and this -- I would think that this would be well received. Thank you.

MS. MCGARRITY: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: If there's no other comments or questions, I'll authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Work Session Item No. 7, Correction to the Largemouth Bass Harvest Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Mr. Michael Tennant, please make your presentation. Thank you.

MR. TENNANT: Thank you. Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Michael Tennant and I'm the Regulations and Policy Coordinator in Inland Fisheries Division. Today I'll be presenting a proposed correction to Largemouth bass harvest rules.

The Department has determined that an external administrative error in publication of rules in 2020, inadvertently resulted in incorrect Largemouth bass harvest regulations in the Texas Administrative Code. Existing Department publications and public information reflect the length and bag limits and special provisions intended by the Commission and thus conflict with enforceable provisions currently in the Texas Administrative Code.

Current erroneous Largemouth bass regulations for nine waterbodies consist of a daily bag limit of five and a minimum length limit of 12 inches. The intended special bag, possession, and length limits for Largemouth bass previously adopted by the Commission, consist of a daily bag limit of five, maximum length limit of 16 inches, and allowance for temporary possession of Largemouth bass 24 inches or greater for weighing.

Addressing this issue in a timely manner is a two-step process whereby the Department first proposes and recommends adoption of a new special section to temporarily replace the current provisions in the fishing proclamation that were published in error in the Texas Administrative Code, with the intended provisions presented on the previous slide. This new temporary rule would ensure that the intended harvest regulations for Largemouth bass on these nine waterbodies are in effect for the remainder of the license year.

The second step that we will be proposing the same rule correction in the regular section as part of the 2022-2023 fishing proclamation, such that all harvest regulations will then be correct in the regular section and the temporary section will expire.

A total of six public comments were received, with four agreeing completely and two disagreeing specifically with the proposed rules. Based on their comments, we felt the two respondents disagreeing specifically on the proposed changes may have misinterpreted these changes as new regulations for nine waterbodies instead of a correction to the Texas Administrative Code. The Outdoor Annual and fishing regulation information on the TPWD website, currently provide the intended regulations for the nine waterbodies. Both respondents expressed concerns about harvest of Largemouth bass under 16 inches. TPWD data for these nine waterbodies indicate we do not see overharvest of small bass.

Staff will recommend adoption of the new section concerning special bag possession and length limits for nine waterbodies. This action item will be on the agenda for adoption at tomorrow's Commission Meeting. Thank you and I'd be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Michael.

Commissioners, any questions for Michael about Work Session No. 7, Correction to Largemouth Bass?

Hearing none, I'll place this item on agenda for Thursday's Commission Meeting for public comment.

Thank you, Michael.

MR. TENNANT: You're welcome.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 8, 22-23 Statewide Recreation Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. You're still up, Michael.

MR. TENNANT: Good morning again, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Michael Tennant and I'm the Regulations and Policy Coordinator in the Inland Fisheries Division. Today I'll be presenting proposed freshwater fishing regulation changes for 2022-2023.

To give a quick overview of the proposed rule changes I'll discuss, these include delineating upstream boundaries for two reservoirs, establishing Largemouth bass harvest exceptions for a newly created lake, returning to statewide standards for Walleye and Red drum for lakes where they're no longer present, modifying Alligator gar spawning season restrictions for reciprocity with Oklahoma, extending invasive carp prevention measures to areas with recent detections, correcting a Largemouth bass harvest rules publication error, clarifying Striped bass species description, and clarifying the county location for Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

Sam Rayburn Reservoir is a reservoir on Angelina River in Angelina, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Sabine, and San Augustine Counties. Blue and Channel catfish special harvest exceptions are in place for this reservoir. Law Enforcement has identified a need to establish the upstream reservoir boundary to delineate where these exceptions apply.

Under current regulations, there is no delineated upstream boundary for Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The proposed rule change would be to delineate the upstream boundary as the Union Pacific Railroad bridge to differentiate between the reser -- reservoir where special exceptions apply and the inflowing river. Law Enforcement has determined that this is both a readily identifiable landmark for boaters and an enforceable boundary. The location of this boundary is indicated on the map with a yellow line.

Lake Texoma is a reservoir on the Red River on the Oklahoma/Texas boundary. Special harvest exceptions are in place for Striped and White bass and Channel, Blue, and Flathead catfish. An upstream boundary delineation was requested by Law Enforcement to differentiate between the lake where these exceptions apply and the inflowing river. Although boundary coordinates are currently listed in the Outdoor Annual as a guideline, it is not defined in TPWD regulations and, therefore, is not enforceable.

Under current regulations, the upstream boundary of Lake Texoma is not delineated. The proposed rule change would delineate upstream boundary between the lake where special exceptions apply and the inflowing river seeking reciprocity with Oklahoma to the extent possible. Sycamore Creek was identified as a landmark that would be recognizable anglers and enforceable. Sycamore Creek was noted by Oklahoma in discussions as the upstream boundary and this location is also consistent with the lake upstream boundary identified in the Red River Compact relating to state jurisdictional boundaries. The location of the upstream boundary is shown on the map with the yellow line.

Bois D'Arc Lake is a newly on Bois D'Arc Creek in Fannin County in North Texas. The Department has stocked offspring of selectively bred ShareLunker Largemouth bass with trophy potential in ponds in the reservoir footprint during construction and additional fish are being stocked in the lake as it fills. The TPWD ShareLunker Program selectively breeds Largemouth bass to have trophy potential using angler donated 13-pound or larger fish as broodstock.

The fisheries management goal for Bois D'Arc Lake is to develop top-of-the-line fishing opportunities and maximize the quality of fishing over the reservoir lifespan. It is important to provide protection to those initial year classes of stocked bass which will have already grown beyond 14 inches, as they have the greatest growth potential and are the most valuable spawning stock.

Current Largemouth bass regulations follow the statewide standard with a daily bag limit of five for Black bass, 14-inch minimum length limit, and no maximum length limit. The proposed rule change would consist of a daily bag limit of five for Largemouth bass, 16-inch maximum length limit, and allowance for temporary possession of Largemouth bass 24 inches or greater for weighing.

Lake Texoma again is a large reservoir on the Red River on the Texas/Oklahoma boundary. Walleye were last stocked in the lake in 1977 and they have not developed a self-sustaining population, nor are they managed as a sport fishery. Fisheries management surveys in recent years have not detected the species, although there have been isolated angler reports of catches of Walleye believed to have dispersed into the lake during flooding from upstream reservoirs on Oklahoma tributaries.

Current regulations consist of special exceptions with a daily bag limit of five and minimum length limit of 18 inches. The proposed rule change would return to statewide standards as special exceptions are no longer needed, which consist of the same daily bag limit and no minimum or maximum length limit and bag limit of two fish less than 16 inches in length.

Also for Lake Texoma, there are proposed modifications to regulations regarding harvest of Alligator gar during spawning season. Upstream areas on Lake Texoma offer important spawning habitat during flooding and harvest is currently restricted in May in selected upstream areas. Due to regulations changes in 2021, Oklahoma now prohibits May harvest of Alligator gar statewide, including all waters of Lake Texoma and the Red River. This poses an enforcement issue for Law Enforcement for both states, as it is difficult to pinpoint where a fish was harvested on the lake or river.

Under current TPWD regulations, May harvest of Alligator gar is prohibited in the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and from US 377 upstream to I-35, roughly the areas encompassed by the yellow boxes on Map 1. These areas were consistent with Oklahoma regulations until their recent rule change in 2021. The proposed rule change would expand the no harvest area for May to include Lake Texoma and all Texas tributaries of the Red River on the Texas/Oklahoma border in Cooke, Grayson, Fannin, Lamar, Red River, and Bowie Counties to alleviate Law Enforcement issues and ensure reciprocity with current Oklahoma harvest regulations as depicted on Map 2.

Historically Red drum were stocked in some Texas reservoirs, including Coleto Creek and Fairfield. Coleto Creek Reservoir near Victoria was last stocked with Red drum in 2001. Fairfield Lake, located east of Waco, which was a power plant lake until 2018, was last stocked in 2011. Fisheries management surveys have not detected this species in recent years, nor have there been angler reports and it has been determined they are no longer present in these lakes.

Current regulations for Red drum for these lakes consist of a daily bag limit of three, minimum length limit of 20 inches and no maximum length limit. The proposed rule change would return to statewide standards as the special exceptions are no longer needed, which consists of the same daily bag and minimum length limit of 20 inches, and a maximum length limit of 28 inches.

Next I'll talk about invasive carp prevention. Nonnative Silver and Bighead carp, collectively called Bigheaded carps, have been found in some Texas waters in North and East Texas. Bigheaded carp are filter feeders that compete with native fish and can have negative impacts on fish populations and Silver carp are known to leap up to 10 feet out of water when startled by boat noise, sometimes striking boaters and posing a hazard. A Bigheaded carp population assessment is currently in progress on the Red and Sulphur Rivers.

As a result of both this project and angler reports, Bigheaded carps were documented in 2021 in all sampled Red River tributaries, which although not previously documented, is not surprising given they are present in the Red River. There are currently regulations in place to prevent transfer of invasive carp via bait bucket transfers. When small, these carp are very similar in appearance to shad and can easily be misidentified as shad and transported as live bait and introduction via that pathway into Lake Texoma where they could potentially become established and problematic is a significant concern.

Current regulations prohibit live transfer of nongame fish from waters of the Red River below Lake Texoma to the Arkansas border, Sulphur River below Lake Wright Patman and Big Cypress Bayou below Lake O' the Pines, including Caddo Lake. The proposed rule change would be to add tributaries of the Red River in those counties along the Oklahoma border to the list of designated waters from which live nongame fish may not be taken.

The Department has determined that an external administrative error in publication of rules in 2020, inadvertently resulted in incorrect Largemouth bass harvest regulations in the Texas Administrative Code. Existing Department publications and public information reflect the length and bag limits and special provisions intended by the Commission, and thus conflict with enforceable provisions currently in the Texas Administrative Code.

Current erroneous Largemouth bass regulations for nine waterbodies consist of a daily bag limit of five and minimum length limit of 12 inches. The intended special bag possession and length limits for Largemouth bass previously adopted by the Commission consist of a daily bag limit of five, maximum length limit of 16 inches, and allowance for temporary possession of Largemouth bass 24 inches or greater for weighing.

Addressing this issue in a timely manner is a two-step process whereby the Department first proposed and recommended adoption of a new special section to temporarily replace the current provisions in the fishing proclamation that were published in error in the Texas Administrative Code with the intended provisions presented on the previous slide and as presented for Work Session Agenda Item No. 7, Action Item No. 3 at tomorrow's Commission Meeting.

This new temporary rule would ensure that the intended harvest regulations for Largemouth bass on these nine waterbodies are in effect for the remainder of the license year. The second step that we are proposing now is this same rule correction in the regular section as part of the 2022-2023 fishing proclamation, such that all harvest regulations will then be correct in the regular section and the temporary section will expire.

Current Striped bass species description contains references to White bass and subspecies. The proposed rule change would remove references to White bass and/or subspecies to more accurately represent the intent of the rule and to apply only to Striped bass and their hybrids thereof.

Current county location for Sam Rayburn Reservoir is Jasper County, whereas the reservoir actually is located in five counties. The proposed rule change would clarify the county location for Sam Rayburn Reservoir to include Angelina, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Sabine, and San Augustine Counties, which encompass Sam Rayburn Reservoir as depicted on the map.

That concludes my presentation, and I'll be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, it's a lot of information. Any questions?

I have a question, Michael.

MR. TENNANT: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Most of the invasive carp prevention seems to be kind of focused around the Red River/Lake Texoma, up there, correct?

MR. TENNANT: Correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But I'm noticing that under current regulations, the bait bucket transfers are also for Big Cypress, Lake O' the Pines, Caddo. So is it -- do we also have carp in that area as well? These particular carp?

MR. TENNANT: I'm going to -- I'm going to defer to Monica on that. She's our aquatic invasive --


MR. TENNANT: -- species expert.

MS. MCGARRITY: Hi. Yes, sir. So the areas where the regulations are currently in place, the Red River below Lake Texoma, the Sulphur River, and then Big Cypress Bayou, all of those have had detections of these invasive carps in the past. In the current study that's ongoing, the detect -- the recent detections have all been in the Red River and in those tributaries. So that is an area of high priority for us.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: How would you categorize the infestation of them? Is it very minimal and grow -- stable, growing -- what would you call it?

MS. MCGARRITY: That's what we're seeking to learn with this study. We're just completely year one of the project and moving into the second year of a three-year population assessment; but we know that the invasive carp in Texas here are kind of at the leading edge of the extent of their range. And so it seems that the populations are relatively low at this time and we'll learn more over time as to whether they are expanding.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: How do we communicate and inform the fishermen in these areas that they can't move live fish in the bait buckets? You know, how do we even -- how do they even know? They're out there throwing their cast net. They're catching some bait. They put it in a bucket. They take it wherever, which can really become a problem. How do we go about even letting those people know?

MS. MCGARRITY: Yes, sir, that is certainly a current concern, especially for Lake Texoma where if the fish are moved up into Lake Texoma, they could become established and have impacts and so we've done some targeted outreach by identifying all of the licensed anglers within ZIP codes in proximity of all of these areas where regulations are in place and actually sending e-mails directly to them, notifying them of these regulations, the problems caused by invasive carp, and what they can do to prevent their spread and then we also publicize this on social media and this is something that we're going to continue to do into the future.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I like that targeted idea. I mean, obviously that doesn't get everybody; but it's -- it certainly is a way. So please continue to do anything you can to educate the public. I doubt anyone would do it intentionally; but I could see where you could very easily have no idea when you're catching shad, you know, that you could accidentally catch a carp. But the solution is you can't move live fish. I just -- let's continue to get that word out. But thank you very much.

MS. MCGARRITY: Yes, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, anybody else?

Hearing no questions, we will -- I will authorize staff to publish Work Session Item No. 8, Proposed Changes --

MS. HALLIBURTON: That's another speaker.

MR. CASTERLINE: Mr. Chairman, Commission, we have one more presentation for Item No. 8, related to the sail lines, the devices, means, and methods --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you for stopping me.

MR. CASTERLINE: All right, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. For the record, my name is Les Casterline. I'm the Assistant Commander of Fisheries Enforcement for the Law Enforcement Division here at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I'm here today to present to you a proposed rule change to the 2022-2023 statewide recreational and commercial fishing proclamation pertaining to our devices, means, and methods, specifically the section related to sail lines.

The current rules states that sail lines may not be used by the holder of a commercial fishing license. Earlier this year, staff was approached with a question on the current rule as to why a commercial fishing license holder would not -- would be restricted from utilizing a sail line for recreational purposes.

After research and discussions, staff has identified that the current language was poorly written and that the original rule did not intend to prevent a commercial license holder from utilizing a sail line for recreational purposes. The proposed lang -- the proposing change would alter this section to read that no person may use a sail line for commercial purposes.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for your time. This concludes our presentation for Item No. 8 in the 2022-2023 statewide recreational and commercial fishing proclamation. Staff request permission to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register. I'm available for any questions if you have any.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mr. Casterline. I find it very apropos that you're proposing changes for sail lines --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- with your name. So thank you.

Any questions or comments for Mr. Casterline about sail line?

Hearing none, thank you.

MR. CASTERLINE: Thank you, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Now at this time, we will -- I will authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period for Work Session Item No. 8.

Next, Work Session Item No. 9, Spotted Seatrout Harvest Rules, Recommended Adoption and Proposed Changes. Ms. Hanna Bauer, welcome.

MS. BAUER: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Hanna Bauer. I'm the Data Analyst on the Policy and Education Team here in Coastal Fisheries. Today I'm going to be presenting our statewide saltwater fishery regulation recommendations and summarize the public comments that we've received.

The next several slides you'll be familiar with and I'll cover them rather quickly. If you have any questions though, please let me know. After the 2021 freeze last February, we estimated there was a minimum mortality of 3.8 million fish coast-wide. Of game fish, Spotted seatrout comprised the majority of the kill with 160,000 fish coast-wide killed and 90 percent of those coming from the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre.

You'll recall last March, we came with you -- to you with an emergency action that was accepted and became effective April 1st. Specifically, that enacted a three-fish bag limit and restricted the harvest size or slot size to 17 to 23 inches. This only applied to the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre systems and originally was enacted for 120 days; but was extended an additional 60 days and expired September 27, 2021.

One, we were able to evaluate our sport fish populations is looking at the relative abundance in our coast-wide spring gillnets. Here you'll see on the Y axis the number of seatrout caught per hour in our nets and that's averaged by year, which is on the X axis there. The orange line there is the ten-year mean catch rates for Spotted seatrout. We felt that ten years represented our current regulatory structure and offered recent history to which we can compare our catch rates.

A couple things to note here. 2020 data is missing. We weren't able to sample that spring due to the pandemic and associated lockdowns and, therefore, 2021 is that point on the far right there. And you'll see in the gray box that this point is 20 percent lower than that ten-year mean catch rate and coincidentally, 20 percent lower than the catch rates seen in 2019, which was our most recent sampling.

We can also perform this analysis by bay. This chart shows the percent change from that ten-year mean catch rate specific to each bay, which you'll see on the left there. We saw marked declines in the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre, as well as in Matagorda and San Antonio Bay. One thing that we previously discussed is you'll notice that Corpus Christi actually saw a modest increase. We suspect as it's a deeper bay, there's more thermal refugia for the fish there and the kill rates were lower than what we saw in other bays.

In light of this, the proposed regulation today would implement the past emergency rule of that three-fish bag limit, a 17- to 23-inch size slot with no fish over 23 inches; but the spatial extent differs from that emergency rule. We're proposing to include the Lower Laguna Madre north through East Matagorda Bay system and 500 feet into the Gulf, as was done with the emergency ruling. The next slide will show the full extent of this geographical range. We're also recommending that this rule expire August 31st, 2023, and revert back to the previous rule of a coast-wide five-fish bag limit, 15- to 25-inch slot, with one fish over 25 inches.

The purpose of this regulation is to allow for two full spawning seasons to take place under these more restrictive harvest measures. We expect this will really accelerate the recovery of the fishery to achieve the same levels of recovery we saw after those '83 and '89 freeze events. I'll take a moment here to discuss why we chose that 17- to 23-inch size slot. Most anglers are catching seatrout that are 15 to 16 inches and while our models suggest that a 15- to 20-inch size slot would offer similar returns if implemented long term, this 17- to 23-inch slot offers protection for those 15- to 16-inch fish and offers a quicker recovery within this two-year period.

Here's the slide with geographical extent. The large map on the left there shows the full extent beginning in the lower south. We'll start at Rio Grande River. This would include the waters of the Lower and Upper Laguna Madre, Corpus Christi Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, and Matagorda Bay and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico 500 yards from the shoreline.

Now if you'll shift your focus to the right, that top map is the proposed northern boundary in Matagorda County. It's at the FM Road 457 and that's the previous boundary we've used for the five-fish to ten-fish bag limit up until 2019. On the bottom right is the lower boundary there in Cameron County. Just south of that last little blue pocket is South Bay and the Brownsville Shipping Channel and the beachfront side would extend down to the Rio Grande River just like it did with the emergency action.

As part of our stakeholder engagement process, we held five meetings to solicit comments. One was virtual and the other four were in Port Isabel, Corpus Christi, Rockport, and Port Lavaca in mid January. Additionally, we solicited comments through our web portal, e-mails, letters, and phone calls. There was also a coast-wide resources -- Coastal Resources Advisory Committee mid January to discuss this proposal as well.

I'll briefly summarize the comments here. In total we received 1,612 comments and of those, 60 percent were in support of the proposal. This includes the support of CCA Texas, who supported this proposal and expressed support for an alternative proposal that would have equivalent biomass benefits. The Coastal Resources Advisory Committee also passed a motion to and passed an additional motion suggesting an alternative proposal of a two-fish bag limit, with a 17- to 20-inch slot that would have the same August 31st, 2023, expiration date. They also -- the Coastal Resources Advisory Committee also expressed support for any other more conservative measure that the Commission might deem necessary.

Of the commenters, 38 percent were; but it's worth pointing out a somewhat unusual pattern in the opposite -- in the opposition. Of those opposed, 10 percent actually wanted more restrictive measures than what the proposal contained. This trend was also seen overall in commenters with about 11 percent of all commenters wanting more restrictive measures. 28 percent of those opposed wanted to shift this slot limit to include smaller size fish, for example, 15 to 20 inches. 9 percent of opposition wanted a narrower slot. 10 percent opposed any change to the current slot limit and 14 percent of those opposed, opposed the bag limit.

Another thing we heard from some constituents was that they'd like us to consider allowing one fish per year over 35 inches to allow for a potential state record during this two-year period. This has been done with species like Tarpon before. If you'd like us to include that in our presentation tomorrow, we can certainly do that as well. And finally, 2 percent of commenters were neutral on this proposal.

That concludes my presentation. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Hanna.

Questions, comments from Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. What -- what is the effective commencement date or proposed?

MS. BAUER: I believe it could be enacted as soon as March.

MR. RIECHERS: Yeah. Rob -- Director of Coastal Fisheries, Robin Riechers, for the record. What we will do is turn this around -- if it is adopted, we will turn it around as quickly as we can and upon filing with the Secretary of State, it goes into effect 20 days after filing. And so we don't know exactly when that exact date would be, but when we -- when were thinking about this before and moving it up in timetable, we were hoping to have it filed so that it could go effect -- in effect probably the middle of March is what we were kind of hoping for at that point in time, if not possibly even earlier.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody questions, comments for Hanna?

Hearing none, thank you Hanna.

I'll place this item on agenda Thursday Commission Meeting for public comment.

Thank you --

MS. BAUER: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 10, Briefing, Oyster Management Strategies Update. Robin, you're up. Thank you. I mean, how are you Robin?

MR. RIECHERS: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. I'm fine. Thank you.

This morning I'm going to be presenting an overview of the oyster fishery. Basically a state of the state of the fishery, if you will. Going from the biology with a quick version of that all the way to really what's happening in the fishery and some of the management challenges that we're seeing.

So with that, I just want to give you a bit of oyster ecology here. Of course, oysters are sessile organism. Meaning, they don't -- they don't swim around. They settle to the bottom. They're both a habitat, as well as a fishery or the item that we're trying to catch or is captured for harvest and food and so that makes them unique as compared to many of the resources that we manage. They really need kind of moderate salinities to survive. High salinities hurt them. Very low salinities will actually kill them as well.

They're important ecologically in that they provide habitat for other critters out there. They provide wave attenuation so that we don't have shoreline erosion and, of course, many of you have probably heard the fact that one oyster can, in fact, filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. As I mentioned kind of starting out, they're economically important to us as a fishery and, obviously, they're very important to us as a habitat as well.

So to kind of explain the fishery itself, we basically have two fisheries. We have what we call the public harvest fisheries and those are prosecuted on public reefs and those are areas where if you buy the license that is allowed for harvest, you basically can goes and harvest reefs during the season which is November to April. That comprises about 78 percent of our landings and right now we have about 546 total licenses and I'll speak to licenses, residents an nonresident, in a slide a little bit later as well.

Then we also have the private harvest oyster leases or certificates of location as they're known in law and that's where the persons in Galveston Bay -- and these are only in Galveston Bay right now -- basically apply to the General Land Office, get a square piece of ground, and then cultivate kind of passively aquaculture on the bottom, if you will. The intent of the program has changed through time. It used to be so that polluted oysters could be moved from polluted areas, go out to those reefs, depurate, and then cleanse themselves basically through that filtration process then we would be able -- or they would be able to harvest them.

They are allowed year-around harvest under strict Department of State Health Service guidelines. There's 43 acres, about 23 -- I mean, 43 leases, about 2,300 acres in that Galveston complex and they comprise about 22 percent of our overall landings.

This next slide is a little bit of a busy slide, but I just wanted to give you an overview of the fishery in terms of its overall value and, of course, the kind of orange line is the meat weight. That's sacks converted to meat weight and then we have there the X vessel value or prices that are paid at the dockside from the harvester -- or that are paid to the harvester from the dealer. And basically the take-home message, of course, we bottom out -- it's highly variable, but we bottomed out in about 2017 there it looks like and we've been on an upward steady climb. You'll notice that the pounds or meat weight has been less and the value has kind of risen faster than that meat weight, really speaking to the overall demand in the Gulf for this product. And if you really want to do the math in your head, over the last five years, we've basically -- it's been about a $25 million fishery and this is both public and private lease oysters right here.

So when we look, as we always do, we want to show you what our relativity abundance tells us, what our sampling tells us that we do in the same way every year and real take-home message on this one is -- and these are -- these are oysters that are greater than 3 inches. So these are market sized oysters. And you can notice there that Aransas Bay has typically had more adult or market size oysters and majority catch-per-unit effort as a whole than the other bay systems. The scale kind of makes this look a little awkward; but typically you would have seen Galveston higher than some of those other bay systems.

This next -- next graph will really help bring this point home when we think about this in terms of total public harvest. Galveston was really our leader until we had Hurricane Ike and some of the other things that have gone on regarding drought and other activities. But you now see and really focus on the San Antonio Bay and Aransas Bay where that red circle is that outlines the increase in the number of harvested sacks coming out of those two bay systems. And, again, you can see where Galveston had made up over 90 percent of our harvest in those years before storms and now it's basically equivalent to the other bay systems.

So as I mentioned, we would talk about resident and nonresident licenses just a little bit. You noticed there in '05 and '06, basically in the '05 Legislative Session we did receive a license moratorium or license moratorium was put into place for oyster licenses. Which means basically they had to have had it the year before to purchase it in the next year. Unfortunately when that was put into place, there was a forward-looking date on that and that's why you see the big increase in '05 and '06 as people went out and purchased licenses, basically either speculating or making sure they had a place in this fishery at a later time. And then you see we basically had a gradual attrition of licenses through time until the most recent times. And you can see there the little kind of almost orange bar on top that represents nonresidents there and what you have also seen there and people have certainly spoke to this, is an increase in nonresident vessels and while it's not a large number, you can see that it's been increasing through time as well.

Probably the most concerning fact on this particular graph, is that typically we had around 400 active vessels and I'm referring to active as people who have been landing product during the year and you can see that since '15 and '16, that number has been steadily increasing to where now almost all the vessels in the fishery are active vessels.

So when we think about oysters and we've just covered some of the harvest mortality that obviously occurs, there's also considerably non-harvest mortality or natural mortality that we attribute here; but we do have these special events that seem to really impact oysters more than it does many other organisms and so while they are natural morality, we do want to point them out here. Obviously, as we saw in the '21 heavy summer/fall rains that occurred, we had significant mortalities along our coast regarding oysters and, of course, you've noted and some people have noted that there was over 50 percent mortality in Copano Bay itself. And I do want to say that's an accurate number; but even inside of that Aransas Bay complex, if you go to Mesquite and other places in that complex, we only say about 10 percent mortality. So it all has to do with how that fresh comes out of that tributary system, where that water settles, and where those mortalities occur.

The other obviously episodic kind of event that we've had that has impacted us is hurricanes and storms. Obviously, Hurricane Harvey dumping the amount of rainfall that it dumped in 2018. We've said it and continue to talk about Hurricane Ike when 8,000 acres in Galveston Bay were lost basically overnight due do siltation and covering of those reefs with sediment.

So I bring this slide up just to really talk to you real quickly about really since '05, there has been in many, many changes in this fishery, both at the Legislative level and at this Commission level. You know, we've had the license moratorium and the buyback from the Legislature. They've also given us the authority to do these in-season closures that we do now. Here at this -- at this dais, you-all have enacted sack limits three different time in 2011, 2016, and 2017. You've reduced the undersized tolerance twice during that same time period. So a lot has been going on and a lot of action has been taken and, frankly, I believe it puts us in a better place today than we would have been; but that's not say there's still not more work to do and so as we know that as the fishery has adapted and as we've seen some of these other episodic events, we're back here to discuss some possible management options with you moving forward.

So to give everyone kind of a reminder of the current state of the fishery as far as regulations go, it is a 30 sacks per day per vessel regulation. Legal fishing times are from sunrise to 3:30 p.m. and that's Monday through Friday. It's now closed on Saturday and Sunday. As mentioned before, it's a 3-inch minimum size limit. There is those undersized tolerances on board the vessel, both in terms of unculled oysters which is six sacks; but more importantly, 5 percent small oysters can on inside of the cargo on the vessel and then there is a dredge limitation that only one dredge can be on board at a time.

As we approached 2017 and some of the Legislative actions and even actions here, one of the issues that we were really dealing with in '14, '15, and '16 was an increase in the number of undersized oysters being captured. Obviously, that means then that next year's oysters were coming across the dock and they weren't going to be there for the following year. And so a lot of attention has been paid to undersized oysters and then the other part here that is shown is the restricted waters and because we have conditionally approved -- we closed areas and we approved areas for harvesting and conditionally approved areas. And conditionally approved, State Department of Health Services will determine whether or not you can harvest from those areas based on loading that's occurring and typically when floods occur, those areas will close due to bacteria. And so that really also impacts the ability if we get enough people who are sickened by that, it can impact the industry as a whole and them being able to sell product out of state. So there's a long, arduous process where that's approved. Law Enforcement has a role in that. State Department of Health Services has a role in that at the federal level; but I just wanted to show you here because we put so much attention on it. Enforcement has really worked hard at making these cases.

Here you can see the number of undersized violations and note that House Bill 51 is marked there between 2017 and 2018 because prior to House Bill 51, you could only -- the citation went to only the captain onboard the vessel. Now citations can go to everyone onboard the vessel. And so that was one of the increase in both penalty, as well as being able to cite multiple people on the vessel that occurred and trying to really get a handle on this undersized oyster issue.

Another approach that we've had more in regards to oysters is obviously after Hurricane Ike, we have not restored the reefs, both that were impacted by Hurricane Ike or those who have been impacted by other events. And so we've worked very hard. After Ike, we restored about 1,100, 1,200 acres. Since 2009, we've restored about 580 acres. We have many partners who work with us in this effort as well. We've had restoration occur from Harte Research Institute, Texas Nature Conservancy, Galveston Bay Foundation, NFWF Gulf Environment Benefit Fund have helped support oyster restoration as well. And we do have our NRDA Deepwater restoration moneys that are out there that are dedicated to oysters and we have a restoration plan or a call for restoration plan out there right now that's not yet -- it's not a restoration plan; but the call went out, and oysters were included in that call.

It's worth noting that there's $22 million in restoration that will be set aside under Deepwater Horizon for -- for oysters in some way, form, or fashion.

But as I say that, that sounds like a lot of money; but I need to remind everyone on this dais who's heard this before is that oyster restoration somewhere in the neighborhood costs between roughly $60,000 an acre. So it's not a cheap venture here.

So the other metric that we've used and as we heard prior to us getting the authority to do this, we would hear towards the end of the season we need to shut down reefs because we would -- basically, reefs would be -- there were too many small oysters and we weren't protecting next year's growth and we did not have the authority to do that in season. So we went to the Legislature and that authority was granted and since then, we've been using a metric that basically allows us to close reefs during the year.

And so we close them at -- when catch rates reach a certain level. It's about 13 sacks and then we'll -- and when I say 13 sacks, that's based on our abundance. That's what it would equate at that time when we do that measurement. Doesn't equate to how long that would actually last if it was being commercially harvested in any way because the amount of effort can change that. But you can see -- and there's been some confusion -- that we basically then hold those closed until it almost doubles in catch rate before we reopen. So we're not trying to bounce along the line of opening and closing. We're trying to close when we need to and then let it rebuild to a level that we think is sustainable for some period of time again and then we reopen.

But we have had cause to reevaluate the metrics that incorporate restructure or more ecosystem kind of parameters inside of these in-season closures when we think about closing areas and reopening areas and certainly people at Harte Research Institute and our own scientists are working on different approaches to think about that and do that.

I might note here also that you should have received a letter from Representative Middleton yesterday that spoke specifically to these in-season closures. Representative Middleton obviously expresses some of the things we've also heard from industry that closing these areas, in fact, pushes more vessels into smaller areas or conglomerates boat in a smaller area, as these areas close down. And certainly we recognize that, but we do believe that that trigger helps us protect resources for the next season and the next season as well.

So lastly, we obviously have other ways we can protect oysters and we have used those tools too and certainly we use those in the past in 2017 when we closed six minor bays. But in addition to that, we have the other traditional management tools that we could use, which is our daytime closures that we've used where we close Saturday and Sunday. We've now restricted harvest past 3:30 in the afternoon; but we could also use further additional restrictions of time. We could use gear restrictions that we basically have not used in the past, but we could consider. And so there are numerous things that we could consider moving forward. One of the things when we look at other states, some of their reef areas have differential limits on them and we could consider that as well, kind of thinking about which reef areas are more productive versus those that are nonproductive and can you adjust bag limits or sack limits based on that notion and certainly that's a tool we can use in the future.

Additionally, as you-all know, we've come to you-all with closures of areas that we're restoring and we can continue to restore areas when we can and have those closures. We've typically held those closed for two years; but there's certainly some call to think about holding those closed for a longer period of time from some circles, and we can do that as well or at least consider that. Then in addition, there's also what we're referring to here as conservation leases that are a possibility in the future. And that's the expansion of that certificate of location program that's in Galveston Bay and it could be expanded and we've had some discussion in front of you in years past about expanding that to other bay systems. That could be expanded. It could possibly be incentivized in a way where people, NGOs who want to do this just for conservation purposes could get a lease and just hold that lease for the ecological values that could occur; but there may also be ways that we could incentivize industry to also use leases and maybe take some of the pressure off of our public reefs in that kind of setting.

So really what that calls for is a strategic restoration plan with our partners and certainly as we all know when it comes to oysters and siting and, you know, determination of where oysters will grow better versus where they won't grow better, it's not just random. And so we need to think about that as we do this site selection.

So also these are some other management approaches that have been tossed about and talked about and certainly we don't want to not suggest that they have some merit. Most of them all have pros and cons, but one of them is what you'll hear people refer to as a shell budget model and that's basically managing a small reef area and through real intensive sampling, determining exactly how many oyster sacks can come off of it in a year and then basically just allowing that amount to come off of that area. It could be maybe expanded upwards into larger systems, but that's kind of the design of what I suggested there. There are rotating closures that have been talked about. Should we be closing certain areas for two or three years while others are being fished and then switch that? There, again, are pros and cons to that given some of the episodic events that we see.

Bay specific licenses have been talked about. Well, obviously, this is a very, very mobile fleet as we have seen and so one of the things is could you create some conservation by basically in some way not allowing the entire fleet to move into certain areas when that area may be the only place that has oysters. And then lastly, maybe working with our partners to incentivize the license buyback program. House Bill 51 did give us the opportunity to do the license buyback program unlike some of our other license buyback programs that we would say were very successful early on and fairly quickly. At this point in time, the amount that is being paid for these licenses is more than the Agency has been willing to pay. We have bought three licenses back since House Bill 51 was passed, but we certainly haven't made the dent in licenses like we have done in some of our other programs.

So really our proposed next steps is I want -- and I want to just go through these briefly because we've already hit them. But really a strategic planning with our stakeholders, partners, our researchers, and our advisory groups and those are people -- in fact, the Rachal Foundation recently came to us. They have -- they have basically supported the Palacios Marine Agriculture Research Station that is going on know is Palacios and they've got broad visions of ecological approaches to restoration here and so they could be a partner in this; but HRI, TNC, Coastal Conservation Association, many of our traditional partners as well as our industry members have all supported what we do here. And so we want to be working with them, our Oyster Work Group and our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee as well.

As we said earlier, we really do want to review those in-season closure metrics. And there may be ways to make those more ecologically based, but there -- we want to review them also to determine if they're working the way we thought they were working and are they providing the protection we need to have, but also allowing industry to work. And so we need to review those as well.

Obviously, we've talked about the many ways you can protect habitat. So I'm not really going to talk about that a lot more. But one of the things that we do know is working with our local communities and working with our local fishermen, both from the recreational side, as well as the commercial side, and our people who also work in restoration. Really think about these restoration plans strategically so that when we do restore certain areas, we can protect them and we're getting the bang for the buck that we would expect.

And then, obviously, the last thing is to also expand our certificate of location program, as I mentioned possibly looking at ways to incentivize that for both conservation, as well as possibly even commercial production. With that, I'll stop there and answer any questions regarding this briefing.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: A lot of information. Commissioners, questions? Comments?

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: My original question was going to be whether the licenses are transferable, but I think you just answered that was yes.


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Because they're trading for higher value than we're willing to pay for them. It seems that the long-term goal would be make the resource very viable for those with a license, but the way to control it would be to have attrition of the licenses over the long haul. So is this a way potentially to put a moratorium on transfers? You know, I know that would be viewed very negatively at first; but maybe give an opportunity to trade it for a couple years and then all of a sudden, no more sales of your licenses. I don't know.

MR. RIECHERS: We would certainly have to look more into that. I believe though just at face value, the question -- or the answer to the question is, yes, it could be done. I believe that would be a Legislative active -- activity to do that. But I mean certainly, restrictions on transfers can occur and have occurred in other -- with other license types.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Just out of curiosity, what's -- what's the ballpark they trade for?

MR. RIECHERS: We hear that to get an oyster license right now, you're probably going to be in the neighborhood of 30 to $35,000. I don't know the voracity of those reports, but that's what we hear.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good -- good question, Blake.

I think it's pretty clear to all, regardless of which side of this you're on, that this is an issue. It's really impacted with weather, hurricanes, freshwater conditions in typically oystered areas. Representative Middleton is right in the fact that closures and/or, you know, weather issues really focus people on remaining spots, which exacerbates the problem. Some form of -- you call it a strategic restoration plan is probably a really great approach. The things you say, proposed steps, additional in-season closure metrics. Okay, evaluating approaches of critical habitat protections, strategic restoration plans which I just mentioned, expanding certificate of location program.

Those are all interesting, but I don't believe -- if you've been there and you've actually seen it, I believe anybody watching it happen, realizes that that reef, that resource, cannot stand that kind of pressure very long. And whether you're in the business of gathering and selling oysters or whether you're in the restaurant business or whether you're a fisherman or an outdoorsman, anybody I just sense can tell that it just can't take this kind of pressure.

I don't know the what the plan -- what the solution is, but I do think we have to be proactive, this Commission, and likely -- the subject we just talked about -- maybe the Legislature as well, the -- but this is certainly clear and present and our population and demand for oysters seem to only be growing and our reefs are not.

And you're right. The 22 million sounds like a lot of money until you divide it by 60,000 an acre. And conservation is a great idea because the conservation, working with our conservation partners, we could put in reefs that -- it doesn't solve the need for oysters and for the fishermen and for the restaurants, but it does help environmentally with the bay system and so that's a really neat idea I think to the extent that we can cooperate and work with people that are like-minded and put their money into -- into that. But we also need to find solutions for everyone.

So this is a tough one, but I think it's -- it's critical and I've -- I've seen it. I mean, when you're looking out there at 30, 40, 50, 60 boats on one reef, it's just -- it's not going to last long. Anyway, that's my comment.

Anything else? Any other Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. Just one thought or question and it's kind of a comparison. If you -- you know, when we look at -- sometimes when you have a land hunt for big game and they have drawings and restrictions. So while you might have a certain number of people licensed, you have to actually take a second stab at the opportunity again to participate. Does -- does something concept -- well, I mean I know this is all up for discussion. So could something conceptionally be thrown in there like that where people have to not just be licensed, but maybe draw again for the opportunity to actually participate during that cycle so you could manage it? And I don't know if that's a Legislative issue or if that's a -- of if that's a Commission regulatory issue.

MR. RIECHERS: Yeah. I -- and I -- again, I think we would have to research what that issue -- you know, where that would lie from a governance standpoint. My suspicion is you're right. It may be in the Legislature in that respect. I think it could be done. I think obviously what that does though, Commissioner Bell, and you know this all too well, is the uncertainty that's going to cause for businesses who are -- who are trying to be that participant, that's going to be -- you know, create a very uncertain harvesting environment for them from year to year to year.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. Do you know the total number of outstanding licenses today?

MR. RIECHERS: Yeah. The numbers -- and I may be off by a little bit, but it's about 540 licenses.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Almost $20 million.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: An it's interesting number. Similar to the amount we're getting. So I do think there's some opportunity with really focusing and also participating with our conservation friends on how -- the buyback license can be a really good idea, but we've been out of the market for a long time. But at the cost of 60,000 an acre to refurbish and $30,000 to buy -- maybe -- maybe we should rethink and get in the market or at least talk about it. But we will I think -- I think it's safe to say this Commission welcomes any ideas. I think we recognize it as a real issue with our resource.

And so thank you, Robin.

MR. RIECHERS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other comments, questions, Commissioners, on Robin's Work Session Item 10?

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Robin, just real quickly. The out of state or nonresident licenses, we had a moratorium, I guess, in '05 or '06 on in-state. Are we -- is the moratorium -- does that not apply to the nonresident, as we've seen the growth the last couple years?

MR. RIECHERS: The moratorium also applies to nonresident; but what I believe we have seen in there is possibly nonresident individuals getting a resident license transferred to them, is what you're seeing in that respect. The overall cap is still there, whether you're resident or nonresident.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Thank you, Robin.

We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 11, Statewide Oyster Fishery Proclamation, Closure of Oyster Reef Areas, Request for Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Robin, you're up.

MR. RIECHERS: Well, again for the record, my name is Robin Riechers, Director of Coastal Fisheries. And as an outgrowth to much of the conversation that just occurred on the dais, but really is we reviewed the current state of the fishery in preparing the briefing. We are coming before you with the permission to publish of Carlos, Mesquite, Ayres Bay to oyster harvest.

The reason for this closure is obviously this bay -- these particular bay system areas, this is all located really in Aransas Bay as you move up towards San Antonio Bay and the reason for these closures are these areas contain very ecologically important and sensitive reef habitat. These are nursery habitat for fish and invertebrates. This is near the Cedar Bayou tidal fish pass, which of course has been open and closed, but is either open of fixing to be opened again. The documented evidence of what that brings to that Aransas Bay system as been studied and basically that ingress and egress of water flow and allow -- and movement of animals back and forth between the Gulf and the bays has been well documented and so we believe this is important habitat area near there. And, of course, we have those protection of our sensitive shoreline habitats and you'll be able to see that a little bit better when I show you some of the pictures of the mapped area here in a bit.

And then, obviously, much as we were just talking about, the increased harvest pressure that we've seen, specifically going down to those lower coast areas and I'll highlight that in a moment as well.

To refresh you though, those existing minor bay closures that we did -- those other six closures just to show you a quick example of where they were previously -- the closest one to this area is that Saint Charles Bay closure; but these are the closures that we put in place for these same sort of ecologically important and sensitive habitat areas that we put into place in 2017.

You've seen this in a previous presentation again, really trying to highlight to you what's circled there in red and that's just the increase in harvest pressure moving down the coast that you're seeing in San Antonio Bay and Aransas Bay particularly and, you know, really how much above the norm that has been in the last couple years.

When we look at Mesquite, individual vessels that are landing in those areas, these areas are broken up by the Texas Department of Health areas and so Mesquite Bay is in and of itself an area that we can delineate very clearly and you can see there the increase in fishing vessels in the area really starting in '21 and what we know now in 2022 and, of course, that 2022 number can still change some; but what's we -- we're able to discern based on landings through this period of time. And while you can see -- and I might make note of in 2018, that bay system was one of those closed bay systems at the time and you can see a fairly significant rebound into 2019, which is -- you know, which is a positive sign. Now, that's positive in that there was probably product to be had; but you can also see how quickly and mobile this fleet is and they came right back into there and harvested in 2019. But really focusing you on the '21 and 2022 figures of increased overall harvest pressure.

When we think about the abundance in that Mesquite Bay system, this is just to show you why that harvest pressure was there and you see that both undersized oysters and then the blue line representing legal oysters has also gone up during that timeframe. So as you might expect, when the legal oysters are there, that fleet's going to move to try to catch those oysters.

And this is -- I'm sorry. Yeah, there's Ayres Bay as well. Another bay system that we were able to pull out because this is our sampling again. This is the relative abundance that we do year by year. So basically it's our measure of that -- those market size oysters. And, again, you can tell by Ayres Bay that the overall oyster abundance was going up in that area at the same time where you saw that fleet on that previous slide move into this area.

We don't have sampling for Carlos Bay. It's too shallow for our vessels to get in and do our oyster sampling. So really Ayres and Mesquite is all we can use for our trend abundance here.

So as you might have heard and seen and as Commissioner Aplin, Chairman Aplin just alluded to, you know, seeing these fleets work, we certainly have been notified by local constituents, conservation groups about the high harvest pressure observed. And I've got just a brief video clip here if it works to show that to you.

(Video is played)

MR. RIECHERS: You can see it's panning there. This was taken on December 1st of 2021. You can see the large number of vessels there up in the upper left-hand corner. The count on that particular day was somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 boats. That's about 50 percent of our active licenses that were in what is really a relatively small area.

I might also add right here that you also yesterday probably received a letter from Judge Mills in the local area, the local Judge from Aransas County, who also has supported us doing this; but also exploring ways to continue to have a viable fishery, but he's supporting this closure at least as it -- as it is now suggested and obviously that's kind of pre -- pre it being published for comment, but he wanted to get that on the record.

So when we look at these three bay systems, we're talking about closing Ayres Bay is about 578, Mesquite 541, Carlos there about a thousand. It represents about 2.8 percent of our coast-wide oyster habitat. When we estimate the landings here, understand again, just as I mentioned to you before, Mesquite Bay, it's pretty easy for us to know exactly those landings. Ayres Bay and Carlos Bay are in other statistical zones that are much larger. They each represent -- the acreage attached inside of this complex, we estimate to be around 50 percent of the harvestable acreage inside that zone. That's how we determine this value. It could be somewhat higher than that or lower than that, based on where the production of oysters are in that larger zone; but we've estimated that to be about 9.6 percent of our coast-wide landings.

So next I wanted to just show you really the areas in question and you can see there Carlos Bay's down to the south, Mesquite Bay's kind of up to the north and towards the Gulf, and then Ayres Bay -- and as you can see, when we talk about those sensitive habitats, obviously all that fringe habitat in Carlos Bay where it's shallow, as I just said, we don't put our vessels up in there for our routine sampling and you can even see a considerable amount of that up in Ayres Bay as well. And so, again, those are sensitive habitats and that's why we're proposing now to prohibit the harvest on those.

With that, I would be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, questions for Robin?

Okay, Robin. Hearing no more questions or comments from the Commission, I'll authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period. Thank you.

We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 12, 2022-23 Statewide Hunting and Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, Request for Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Looks like, Alan, you're up. And then Shawn and then Shaun. So hello, Alan.

MR. CAIN: Hello. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Alan Cain. I'm the White-tailed Deer Program Leader in the Wildlife Division. And this morning I'll be requesting permission to publish proposed changes to the statewide hunting proclamation concerning White-tailed deer harvest regulations and also general hunting provisions pertaining to certain tagging requirements, proof of sex, and cold storage facility regulations.

So the first proposal staff will be presenting is a result of a petition for rule-making the Department received this summer. The petitioners, Dr. Harry Jacobson and Tim Condict, who work for -- or work with properties in Grayson County as consulting biologists, requested that the Department allow the take of White-tailed deer by firearm in Collin, Dallas, Grayson, and Rockwall Counties, which are those counties outlined in red on the map and all those fall within Deer Management Unit 21, which is that yellow-shaded area on the map.

After reviewing the petition, staff agreed with their request and recommend pursuing this change. Keep in mind, currently these counties allow harvest by archery equipment only during all seasons and so that includes general season, MLD season, and youth season.

So a little history of the White-tailed deer regulations. It's important to understand the background for this petition and why these counties do not have harvest regulations that would allow take by firearm in all seasons. So in 1961, the Texas Legislature closed deer season in Grayson County in part because of complaints from landowners with lake houses around Lake Texoma that simply didn't want discharge of firearms nearby. And then in 1984, the Commission adopted rules to allow deer hunting on the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge that borders portions of Lake Texoma and Grayson County and restricted hunting on the Hagerman to archery equipment only. That regulation stayed in place for 15 years until 1999, when the Commission adopted rules to open White-tailed deer season to all of Grayson County; but continued to restrict harvest to archery only during all seasons, although there was no biological justification to do so.

And by this time, the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge had been know for producing some exceptional bucks. They would meet Boone and Crockett minimums and because hunting was closed in much of the county, we had a well-balanced age structure in that area, obviously allowing bucks to maximize antler maturity and antler production. Obviously, this would be an area of interest for hunters pursuing bucks of that quality, especially archery hunters in that area.

And in 2008, the Department received a petition to allow the take of deer by firearm during general season and we've continued to receive either requests or petitions periodically over that 12-year timeframe. Now although staff were considering a proposal to allow take by firearm during general season, as result of that 2008 petition, staff withdrew the proposal because of strong public opposition by archery hunters in that county and at the time, a lack of information about deer population data.

And then in 2012, the Department also received a petition to open deer season in Collin and Rockwall Counties, which had been closed for a number of years. And so staff brought forward a proposal to open deer season with the same regulations as Grayson County since those four counties fall within the Deer Management, Deer Management Unit 21, and that was adopted by the Commission in 2012. And it's noted we continue to receive requests frequently, including the petition this summer again asking the Department to allow take by firearm during general season.

So allowing take by firearm during youth and general season in Grayson County has been a divisive topic among hunters and landowners in that county, with a diversity of reasons for and against such a change. Those in opposition of such a proposal perceive possible issues that include increased poaching if gun hunting is allowed, safety issues with the discharge of firearms, a decline in deer population or current population's not large enough to allow for the take by firearm, impact of buck age structure and the number of trophy bucks in that population, and simply the tradition of archery-only hunting in these counties.

But just as a reminder, these -- the vast majority of these reasons for opposition are not unique to these four counties. You could say this about any county in the state that we currently allow fire -- firearm seasons and, quite frankly, don't necessarily justify retaining archery-only during all seasons.

On the other hand, those supporting take by firearm included in the petitioners' recent request cite a number of reasons, including giving landowners a choice to decide whether firearm hunting should be allowed on their property. Also noting that firearm harvest is a necessary and efficient tool to manage deer populations, especially on high-fenced properties. In fact, the two petitioners work with high-fence properties on MLD in Grayson County and those properties have no other way to manage those deer numbers other than by archery harvest, which proves to be pretty difficult in those particular situations.

Again with CWD present in nearby Hunt County, allowing take by firearm could be very important to help manage deer populations that lower deer densities as a management strategy to reduce disease spread or contain the disease should it be present in that free-ranging population out there. And firearm hunting expands the opportunities for more hunters that don't use archery equipment to enjoy hunting, which is important for our R3 efforts. Lastly, firearm hunting provides more opportunities for landowners to generate revenue through hunting enterprises on their property.

So current regulatory surveys conducted in Deer Management 20 -- 21, that area in yellow there, estimate the deer population to be at 11,300 deer with a density of one deer for every 80 acres. Statistical confidence intervals from our surveys estimate the range of densities from as high a deer to 18 acres to as low a deer for every 356 acres. Obviously, a bunch of this is concrete developed areas; but you do have pockets of really good habitat, whether it's around the Hagerman or in Grayson County, parts around the lake there. Even drainages and pockets of habitat in Collin County. In those areas with better habitat, you're going to have higher densities on that deer to 18-acre sort of range. On areas with marginal habitat, big hay fields, what have you, those are going to be much lower density, that deer to 356 acres, which is not dissimilar to other DMUs in that particular area.

So the population estimates in Deer Management Unit 21 are similar to other surrounding deer management units such as Deer Management 22 to the east, with a density of one deer for 70 acres and DMU 20 to the south with a one -- estimate of one deer for every 118 acres. And these DMUs currently allow take by firearm during general season and have done so as long as hunting season has occurred in these counties.

Now although we have a limited harvest data for DMU 21, the area in question there in yellow, we expect buck age structure to be similar to the DMU surrounding 21 where antler restrictions are in place and those surrounding DMUs where antler restrictions are in place, approximately 66 percent of the harvest is represented by bucks three and a half years of age or older, which is the goal of that antler restriction. That's where we want to get those bucks to and we expect that to be the same in these four counties that also have antler restrictions in place.

So based on the deer population data and the potential for more hunting opportunities or options to aid in recruitment of more hunters, staff are proposing the following changes. First is to remove the prohibition on the use of crossbows during archery season in Collin, Dallas, Grayson, and Rockwall Counties; allow for take by firearm during the general and youth seasons and on MLD properties during the MLD season in these counties; implement a four-day doe season during the general season and require mandatory harvest reporting of bucks and antlerless deer so we can monitor impacts of this potential regulation change on deer population in that particular -- in those particular counties.

The next proposal staff are presenting is the modification of the definition of buck and antlerless deer. Staff are proposing to modify antlerless deer definition to clarify that antlerless deer are deer having no antler points protruding through the skin or a buck that has completely shed its antlers. Also to modify the buck definition to a deer having hardened antler points protruding through the skin or a deer having antler growth in velvet at least 1 inch or greater. These definition modifications are necessary to clarify for hunters and our Law Enforcement about the correct tag usage or what should be applied on a harvested deer in these odd scenarios we run into such as deer with velvet antlers, antlered does, or buck fawns and shed antler bucks.

The next proposal pertains to the modification of proof of sex requirements for bucks. As I noted at the briefing in November, we were not able to incorporate possible changes to the buck proof of sex with changes to the antlerless deer proof of sex that Mitch Lockwood presented during the comprehensive CWD rule package at that time. At the time, staff were still working through options for proof of sex for bucks while seeking to address Law Enforcement concerns pertaining to proof of sex for bucks.

So after a lot of discussion and feedback from stakeholder groups, staff are proposing to change to allow hunter retain only the skull cap with antlers attached and tail as proof of sex, rather than the whole head. The addition of proof of sex option would promote good CWD management by allowing hunters to leave the most infectious carcass parts at the site of harvest -- i.e. the brain.

And now there's been some folks that suggest that we use sex organs as proof of sex for bucks; but this is problematic for Law Enforcement. Especially when we're talking about enforcement of antler restrictions in 117 counties because you have the fact that buck fawns and shed antler bucks are considered antlerless deer and should be tagged as such and so if a game warden pulls up on somebody and all they see is these male sex organs, there's no way to discern whether that was an antlered buck and should have been tagged as such or should be an antlerless deer.

Additionally, you know, using only male sex organs could impact Wildlife Division staff's ability to collect certain biological data from harvested bucks that are necessary to monitor impacts of our harvest regulations on those deer populations.

And the last proposal that I have to bring up is the concerns that cold storage facilities' tagging requirements and proof of sex at these facilities. So current regulations state that proof of sex requirements cease once tagging requirements cease and then at cold storage -- commercial cold storage facilities, tagging requirements cease once that deer's been quartered and entered in the cold storage record book.

Now we'd like to simplify when the proof of sex requirements cease at commercial cold storage facilities. So here's the issue. You have two hunters show up at a locker plant. One with a quartered deer and the proof of sex, which is the head currently, in the back of the truck. And then you have another hunter show up with a whole deer in the back of the truck and proof of sex, you know, obviously attached to the deer. Well, once the locker plant enters that harvest record of the quartered deer into the cold storage record book, that hunter can take the head and leave. But the hunter that showed up with the whole carcass, he can't do that because the deer hadn't been quartered yet. It's been entered in the log; but under the current rule, proof of sex doesn't cease until that deer's been quartered and entered into the log.

And so staff are proposing to allow proof of sex to cease in a commercial cold storage facility after the deer has been entered in the cold storage log, regardless of whether the deer is quartered or a whole carcass. This change would remove unnecessary disparity between the two scenarios; allow hunters to take the head or antlers home, if desired, at the time of drop off; allows for cleaner storage of skinned carcasses hanging in the locker; and can aid our staff in aging antler and CWD data collection when the head is separated from the carcass and stored at a more convenient location for sampling within the locker plant.

So to facilitate this change, staff would need to make a couple of distinctions between the several types of commercial cold storage facilities. So one would be those brick-and-mortar businesses that you take your deer to get processed to versus a commercial cold storage facility on a private ranch and also what is considered final destination as it relates to tagging requirements. So under this proposed change, staff would propose a definition for a Type 1 cold storage facility which is a place of business for the purpose of storing and/or processing game and is open to the public on a for-profit basis. And a Type 2 facility would be a facility not open to the public on demand that is used to store and process game taken on a property -- i.e. a private ranch -- where hunting occurs for individuals by individuals for pay.

Staff are also proposing to create a definition of a final destination for deer or deer carcass parts that include not only the permanent residence which is currently in rule of that hunter or the person in possession of the carcass; but add the addition of the Type 1 commercial cold storage facility. Again, that business that we're talking about.

So in order to address these discrepancies I discussed regarding when proof of sex ceases recording whole carcasses at commercial locker plants, the Type 1 facilities we're talking about, staff are proposing to allow carcass tagging requirements to cease and the corresponding proof of sex requirements to cease when the harvest has been entered into the cold storage record book and the harvest location, which includes the ranch and county of -- county name is recorded by that cold storage facility. However, the proposed change would also require that the tag or wildlife resource document be maintained by that cold storage facility as long as the facility possesses that carcass or part of that carcass. The requirement to retain the tag would aid Law Enforcement investigations of harvested deer should any questions arise about that particular harvest at the locker plant.

At Type 2 facilities -- again, these are ranches where hunting occurs for pay and private and noncommercial cold storage facilities, which are ranches where you have family and friends hunt, but not for pay -- the proposed change would require that deer must be at least quartered and entered in the cold storage record book before proof of sex and tagging requirements would cease.

And then staff -- well, you'll note that in your Commission books, we had some language in there that reflect that the tags need to be retained until that hunter or person reach the final destination. However, staff removed that section after careful consideration and noting that in 2008, discussions concerning when tagging and proof of sex cease at these type -- these type of cold storage facilities on a private ranch had thoroughly been vetted by the Department and the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee and the Commission adopted changes at that time to reflect that. And so basically nothing has changed for these commercial cold storage facilities that are on a private ranch.

We're just clarifying in the requirements for the new definition of the Type 2 facility there. So really there's no changes going on. Still have to enter a deer in the record -- cold storage record book on that facility before carcass tagging and proof of sex ceases.

And so that concludes my portion of the presentation. Before I turn it over to Shawn Gray, I'll be happy to answer any questions if the you have any.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions for Alan?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Yeah, Patton. On the antlerless and buck definition change, I guess I had a question on the buck deer that has completely shed its antlers. Do we do that anywhere else? I mean, use that -- is that definition used anywhere else, or is it like completely new?

MR. CAIN: The shed antler?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Yeah. For otherwise something that would be a buck deer that has shed --

MR. CAIN: A buck deer -- well, in the definition under antlers, that's a new provision we're proposing because, you know, hunters out there and they see a deer at 200 yards and they don't see any visible antlers, they shoot it and they walk up and it's a buck that's shed its antlers. And so, you know, in their mind, it was likely, "Hey, I'm harvesting an antlerless deer." And so we want to --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I can say I'd have a problem with that. I mean, you need to know -- excuse me, Mitch. Go ahead.

MR. LOCKWOOD: For the record, Mitch Lockwood, Big Game Program Director.


MR. LOCKWOOD: This proposal doesn't change the practice of how it's already classified. That deer's already classified as an antlerless deer. This just clarifies that. Makes it crystal clear in rule if this were adopted.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So right now an buck deer that has shed his antlers, if you shot him, he's not a buck? He's an antlerless deer?

MR. CAIN: Yes, it's considered an antlerless deer by definition currently because I -- if I recall correctly, an antlerless deer is a deer that has no antler protruding through the skin and a shed antler buck has no antler protruding through the skin.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And so if you were on an MLDP, you'd use a -- you'd use a doe tag?

MR. CAIN: No. Well, I guess under MLD, under the current definitions, yes, you would use an antlerless tag.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And that -- and that's the way it's always been?

MR. CAIN: (Nods head affirmatively).

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. I don't have anything else.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: To Bobby's point, so if you're shooting a two- or 300-yard shot and you hit a nubbin buck, what happens then?

MR. CAIN: It's considered an antlerless deer because it doesn't have antler --

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Nubbin bucks are considered antlerless as well?

MR. CAIN: Yeah. The definition right now, I think it has to -- it's hardened antler protruding through the skin. But the term "hardened antler," that confuses people when you have a, you know, a buck in velvet, a stag buck that you harvest in season. Obviously, a hunter sees that deer at a hundred yards, sees antlers on his head; but he may not recognized they're velvet. And so all these are nuances to help clarify how you should tag a deer appropriately and to address these scenarios. We don't want a hunter that has the intention of killing a doe to get in trouble, you know, and have questions about whether it's a buck or how it should be tagged.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: So back to the statement then. Even on a nubbin buck, he would use a --

MR. CAIN: Antlerless tag.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody else? Other questions for Alan?

Thank you, Alan.

Is Shawn up? Yes. Welcome.

MR. GRAY: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Shawn Gray. I'm the Mule Deer and Pronghorn Program Leader and today I'd like to seek approval to publish the proposed Mule deer hunting regulation changes into the Texas Register for public comment.

This map illustrates our current Mule deer seasons in the state. The yellow and blue colored counties have a 16-day general season that starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving with a special archery season. The red color counties have a 9-day general season that starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving with no special archery season. The blue colored counties are where we initiated the experimental Mule deer antler restriction in 2008 in the six southeast panhandle counties and in 2019 in Lynn County, which has provided data for four hunting seasons in the southeast panhandle counties and three hunting seasons in Lynn County. In the Trans-Pecos, the green colored counties, we have a 17-day general season starting the Friday after Thanksgiving with a special archery season and all general seasons are buck only.

Prior to the experiment in the southeast panhandle, excessive buck harvest occurred primarily because of increased lease hunting and the popularity of Mule deer hunting. This excessive buck harvest affected the Mule deer sex ratio in the area, with our survey data indicating a post sex ratio of about five does per buck. In addition, past intensive buck harvest impacted the buck age structure and because of this, staff received many requests from landowners and hunters to improve the buck age structure of the Mule deer in this area of the panhandle.

Most western states have tried an antler point restriction, such as a minimum of four points on one side, with no significant improvement in buck age structure. This is because many young deer meet these minimum standards. We tested a different antler restriction criterion. Using the White-tailed deer antler restriction as a model, staff collected data on Mule deer captured during ongoing Mule deer research projects and hunter-harvested Mule deer in the panhandle to estimate the ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread of bucks standing in the alert position.

The average ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread for Mule deer bucks standing in the alert position is 21 inches, demonstrated in the picture. Because the average-ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread on Mule deer bucks is 21 inches, staff propose to use a restriction with an outside spread of the main beams of 20 inches to protect younger aged bucks and it closely matched the distance between ear tips when a buck is standing in the alert position. The outside spread is estimated in a similar manner as the inside spread, but by using the outside measurement of the antler material.

These illustrations will be used to demonstrate what type of buck could be harvested or those that were protected during the experimental Mule deer antler restriction. Using the average ear-tip-to-ear-tip measurement in the alert position as a guide, which is 21 inches shown by the blue dash lines on both buck drawings, the buck on the left would be legal for harvest with an outside spread of 20 inches or greater. It would not be legal to harvest the buck on the right because the outside spread is less than 20 inches. Even young deer have an ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread of 21 inches.

Unbranched antlered bucks with an outside spread of less than 20 inches would also be illegal for harvest, as shown in these examples. This is different compared to our White-tailed deer antler restriction regulations. Our main goal was to get more Mule deer bucks into older age classes and most unbranched antlered bucks are yearlings and allowing more yearlings to be harvested can significantly impact future age structure, especially during drought.

Mule deer populations are much lower than White-tailed deer populations and can be more sensitive to overharvest. Data suggests that the antler restriction with an outside spread of 20 inches protected at least 80 percent of one and a half to three and a half year old bucks and about 80 percent of bucks four and a half years of age or older were harvestable.

At the check stations we have staffed during the experiment within the southeast panhandle counties, the number of bucks checked each year has been higher than in 2018. Staff believe this may be correlated with the number of harvestable bucks on the landscape in each year. In addition, staff get reports from hunters who check their animals and these reports seem to validate this idea.

Also notice the pink ear tags attached to the buck. This buck was part of our Mule -- multiyear Mule deer research project within the panhandle to study the influence of agriculture on Mule deer movements, habitat use, and survival. The buck was captured, ear tagged, and radio collared as a fawn in 2016. Therefore, we know exactly how old the buck was when he was harvested. Pink 20 was a four and a half year old buck with an outside spread of 21 and six-eighth inches. These known age research deer have proven invaluable during their experiment.

Data from our check stations in the southeast panhandle are providing more evidence that the buck age structure of harvested animals is becoming older and more natural. This graph demonstrates that that prior to the experiment, over 20 percent of the harvest was comprised of one and a half and two and a half year old bucks, with only 33 percent being five and a half to eight and a half plus years of age. After four hunting seasons of the experiment, only 1 percent of the deer checked were aged within the young age class, one and a half to two and a half year olds, and 50 percent were in the mature age class, five and a half to eight and a half plus years of age.

This graph illustrates data collected from winter helicopter and ground count surveys. Information collected from 2005 to 2018, which was prior to the experiment, estimated an average sex ratio of 4.7 does per buck, which is an indicator of intense buck harvest. During the next three years of the experimental antler restriction, the average sex ratio was 2.9 does per buck. Substantially more bucks were observed during 2019 to 2021 post-season helicopter surveys and ground counts than in years past.

The improvement in sex ratio from 2019 to 2021 is further evidence that the experiment is having positive population impacts. The map shows a black crosshatched area that is one of several panhandle Mule deer monitoring units. This is the scale at which we survey and collect Mule deer data. The current antler restriction counties in the southeast panhandle encompass most of this Mule deer monitoring unit. However, staff believe we should incorporate seven additional counties that would almost completely contain this monitoring unit. This map shows how the proposed Mule deer antler restriction change would look like in the southeast panhandle, which includes 13 counties instead of the current six.

Another proposed change would be to expand the antler restriction out from Lynn County into all the current 9-day counties and extend the season to 16 days, as well as include the special archery season. The main idea is to provide more hunting opportunity while using the antler restriction to maintain or improve Mule deer sex ratios of buck age structure.

The new map illustrates how these two Mule deer regulation proposals would fit with the current Mule deer seasons. All 15 9-day counties are proposed to change to a 16-day season with a special archery season, just like the yellow colored counties. However, these counties would be under the new antler restriction. The other proposal in the panhandle would be to implement the antler restriction in 13 counties instead of six counties in the southeast panhandle.

Staff believe the Mule deer antler restriction proposals should not apply in any CWD zone, which are delineated in this map by red crosshatching the containment zone and purple hatching the surveillance zone. Therefore, portions of Parmer, Randall, Lubbock, and Lynn Counties within the CWD zones would not be subject to the proposed antler restriction. Current science indicates that increased buck harvest will reduce CWD prevalence rates in bucks and may inhibit natural CWD expansion into new areas.

The last proposed Mule deer regulation change would be to add an experimental antler restriction to Terrell County, which is the light green colored county in the map. In the lower one-third of Terrell County, south of U.S. Highway 90, intense buck harvest has skewed sex ratios and severely reduced buck age structure. Even more so than the primary experimental antler restriction counties in the panhandle. In this part of Terrell County, there are numerous small acreage tracts where Mule deer hunting pressure is very high. Staff will monitor the experiment in Terrell County through an incentive-based voluntary check station in Dryden and annual post-season helicopter surveys.

Staff conducted an opinion survey to gauge constituent support of the current experimental antler restriction and potential expansion into other areas of the panhandle and Terrell County. Last fall, staff used a hybrid survey with two e-mail blasts and one mail out that was sent to 17,439 individuals. Hunters numbered 8,310 and resided within the proposed counties. The remainder of those samples were landowners that participated in MLDP or antlerless Mule deer permits last year or owned property of over 50 acres in the proposed counties.

We received more than 2,300 replies for a response rate of 13 percent. 60 percent of the respondents from across the panhandle supported continuing the experimental antler restriction in the current counties. And 64 percent of the respondents that resided or owned property within the current experimental antler restriction counties, supported continuing the antler restriction. About 60 percent of the respondents from across the panhandle and those who resided or owned land within the proposed neighboring counties, supported expanding the antler -- experimental antler restriction into those counties, with less than 20 percent who did not support expanding the antler restriction.

Similar to the results of expanding the antler restriction to neighboring counties, about 60 percent of respondents from across the panhandle and those who resided or owned land within the proposed southwest panhandle counties, supported expanding the experimental antler restriction, as well as extending the season from 9 days to 16 days. About 25 percent of the respondents did not support expanding the antler restriction and extending the season in the southwest panhandle.

For Terrell County, about 70 percent of hunters and landowner who responded, supported expanding the experimental antler restriction to Terrell County. 21 percent of the respondents did not support an antler restriction in Terrell County.

Given the favorable feedback from the opinion survey and the positive biological impacts from the antler restriction, staff propose to make the antler restriction permanent in the current seven counties and and expand to an additional 21 counties in the panhandle. In addition to proposing the antler restriction in the 15 counties in the southwest panhandle, staff propose to extend the 9-day season to 16 days with a special archery season. Staff also propose to test the experimental Mule deer antler restriction in Terrell County.

With this proposal, any buck with an outside spread of 20 inches or greater would be legal for harvest. Thus, any buck with a spread less than 20 inches would not be legal to harvest regardless of unbranched antlers. The antler restriction currently does not apply to any MLDP properties and staff propose this to continue. As part of the MLDP Program, TPWD sets property-specific bag limits, which for Mule deer are generally conservative. Staff also propose that the antler restriction not apply in any CWD zone.

Staff will monitor success of the experimental antler restriction in Terrell County using population surveys -- for example, sex ratios -- and a voluntary check station to collect more antler and ear measurements, as well as buck age structure data.

And this concludes my portion of the statewide hunting regs. I'd like to take any questions before I turn it over to Shaun Oldenburger.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Shawn.

Commissioners, any questions for Mr. Gray?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. So if you're a landowner and you're not MLDP and you want -- you know, you find an older buck that is narrow that you would consider undesirable, you just cannot harvest that deer under this rule, right? And, I mean --

MR. GRAY: That's correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- I use the word "harvest," but really we're -- you know, it's managing or, you know, culling.

MR. GRAY: That's correct. Yeah, under this rule that wouldn't be possible.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Anybody clue into that or you get a comment on that at all?

MR. GRAY: We do -- we do get comments or some of those that did not support the antler restriction, stated that as one of their reasons for that. But from the Department's standpoint, I guess, we're really able to manage the age structure and to some degree, the nutrition on the landscape with -- if overpopulation of deer, we can issue doe permits and whatnot. So age -- age and nutrition of deer is very manageable. Genetics is very debatable.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I guess, and it wouldn't happen; but if that deer dropped its antlers, you'd be able to shoot it as an antlerless deer.

MR. GRAY: Only if we issued antlerless Mule deer permits.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Oh, there are none. Right. Yes, so we wouldn't have to --

MR. GRAY: That's correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: That takes care of that. No pronoun issues there. Okay, good.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: It's actually a good point, Bobby. It causes an issue and the circumstance you brought up, it would be ideal.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: But it is an interesting issue.

MR. GRAY: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners?

Okay. Thank you, Shawn.

MR. GRAY: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Next, Shaun. Welcome.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Good morning, Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name's Shaun Oldenburger. I'm the Small Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. I'll be continuing on with the request permission to publish changes to the 2022-23 statewide hunting and migratory game bird proclamations.

First off, we'll finish up proposed staff proposals to the statewide hunting proclamation with proposed changes to upland game bird regulations and this is a proposal to wild turkeys. As you are aware, we've been doing some extensive wild turkey restoration in East Texas for some time. Going back to the Texas Game and Fish Commission in the 1940s, the estimated less than a hundred turkeys East Texas. Most state wildlife agencies, including ours, were very successful in repopulating most of the historically -- historic populations of wild turkeys across the United States. Unfortunately, one of the areas that continues to be and probably the only area in the United States that continues to be unestablished, for the most part, continues to be East Texas for a variety of reasons.

The Department and back in 2013, started an extensive restoration population or population restoration effort with wild turkeys, mostly Eastern wild turkeys and that subspecies in the Piney Woods, since Rio Grande wild turkeys have been very well reestablished in Texas for quite some time. Since then, we've actually released approximately 1,400 Eastern wild turkeys from about eight different states, using those -- a lot of agreements we have with other states to move those turkeys. In fact, last night at midnight, 20 some turkeys from Maine arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport and those birds will actually be released in Angelina County hopefully today if they get all the testing results done.

And so this continues on this. One thing we do -- have done in the past with regards to super-stocking is in East Texas, is there's been a line in Texas where we consider a hybrid zone. That would be where basically Rio Grande subspecies and Eastern subspecies come together. This area right through here, this Trinity River watershed is continued[sic] one of the hybridization zones. And so we've actually -- looking here at Ellis County, the proposal is to close the eastern half of the county. Basically, I-35 and -- oops, I went a little too far there. Going back to the previous one.

So basically you see there, there's two green dots on there. Those areas there in Navarro and Kaufman Counties is where we've actually done some releases in Rio Grande turkeys from various ranches in Central and South Texas. In fact, yesterday as well we trapped about 60 turkeys that will be moving here today, to these areas actually to complete those -- some of those stockings. If you also see there in the gray squares, we've actually been doing some extensive -- basically distribution maps with our staff in these local areas. Basically where they exist, populations of turkeys exist. If we go back just prior to 2018, before we released approximately about 250 turkeys in this area, those gray squares didn't exist. There were no wild turkeys in this area of eastern Ellis County.

Eastern Ellis County as a whole has a six-week season. Four birds in the daily bag limit, a spring only season. But in reality, very limited turkey populations existed here prior to us releasing wild turkeys. Very similar to other Eastern turkey restoration processes we've done in eastern counties. We've closed those counties when we institute a restoration process to make sure that those birds survive the best possible to make sure we have connectivity with those populations and habitats.

Continuing on to look at that Trinity River watershed and on off of that with Catfish Creek and Coon Creek, these are those areas that we have established turkey populations here in the last seven or eight years, continuing towards eastern -- eastern part of Texas. And so basically this is just a part -- those little dots in Ellis County are just a part of the larger effort we're doing in the Wildlife Division to restore Eastern turkeys to Texas. So once again, the propose would be to basically close wild turkey season in eastern Ellis County east of I-35.

All right. That concludes basically staff proposals for 2022-23 statewide hunting proclamation. We'll move on to the migratory game bird proclamation and staff proposals. No federal framework changes except inclusion of --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hey, Shaun. Hold on a minute.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Oops, sorry. I'll go back.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Vice-Chairman Scott has a question.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I've got a -- back on your -- on this Ellis County.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I had a good doc friend I hunted with a long, long time. He had a very, very large ranch in that Trinity River bottom shed and he raised -- he ran four or 5,000 mama cows and he asked me at that -- way back there about if he wanted to put some turkeys in and he was looking at Rio Grande and I can't remember now who they directed me to. It was somebody in Jasper I believe at the time. It was nine years ago, I believe. And at that time I was told that they weren't having -- they were very unsuccessful with getting past the Trinity River with a Rio Grande turkey.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: And that the only ones that they had any faith in were the Eastern turkeys. And so I guess my question is: Has anything changed since then or is it just that that Trinity River bottom area does not have the right habitat for I guess either turkey from what it sounds like?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah. So if when we look at our Eastern wild turkey restoration efforts we do, we basically have a very -- it's a large process we go through, kind of a threefold process. We look at large-scale habitat and then we look at GIS basically level on the ranch side as far as what habitat they have concerning openings and niche habitat. We also look at on the ground evaluation, what management they're doing, if they're doing prescribed burning, if they're doing other things on the landscape to improve that habitat.

And for those Eastern wild turkey restoration efforts, we actually maintain that they must have at least 10,000 acres. We consider that the minimum amount of habitat to establish a sustainable amount of population for the Eastern wild turkeys. When we move over to the Rio Grande subspecies, we consider those species to be a little bit more mobile than that subspecies. And so these linear habitats that we have all over Texas -- Central Texas and West Texas have very well established Rio Grande turkey populations and so it's kind of an evolving science as we do this process and restoration process; but we believe these sites here are possibly prone to more success than other sites to complete those populations. So -- so it's -- have things changed? Yes. As we gain more science and we gain more effort, you know, we look at, you know, our Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area where we release both subspecies. We're kind of seeing a mixture of species there. Some are successful. Some are not. Folks at Texas A&M have looked at those two genetically to look at which ones have been successful in the past two from which areas and it's evolving. The science kind of goes back and forth; but as we gain more new information, we kind of move another step forward.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Shaun. Continue, please.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. Moving on, no federal framework changes except inclusion of veteran waterfowl hunting due to legislation. I'll go into that a little bit later. Some of the framework changes, season lengths and daily bag limits have been maintained with exceptions for mergansers. I'll also go into that a little bit later. And then basically calendar progression from this past season's dates moving forward for all migratory game bird seasons, with a couple of exceptions I'll outline as well.

So one thing from the Central Flyway Council's standpoint, which I sit on, one thing that was done this last year is the elimination of hooded merganser daily bag limits. The Service Regulations Committee did approve of that, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. So that will be a federal framework for the 22-23 hunting season. Basically, this is a longstanding restriction based on -- if you look at wood ducks and hooded mergansers where the past populations have been; but with regards to current populations, there really is no reason for restrictions on this species. So that -- they agreed to lift that restriction on this species.

Also combining merganser and duck daily bag limits in two. Currently we have separate bag limits for mergansers and ducks. Mergansers are ducks. So we're going to combine those into a single aggregate duck daily bag limit. Currently ducks are six. Mergansers are five. That will go into just six overall that one person can take.

Next proposed changes by staff include the inclusion of federal Sandhill crane hunting permit. If -- back in 2013, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service did the final supplemental environmental impact statement for the issuance of annual regulations permitting the hunting of migratory birds. Prior to that, we had two systems in Texas. We had an early basically migratory game bird proclamation and we had a late season migratory game bird proclamation because that's the way Fish and Wildlife Service did the process. Erroneously when we combined those two into a single migratory game bird proclamation, we unfortunately left this provision out of that and that error was found this last year. So this is basically just including that back in to make sure that folks that were Sandhill crane hunting have to have that federal Sandhill crane hunting permit.

Just for a little background with that federal Sandhill crane hunting permit, basically that's the list of folks and hunters that we get to give to the Service for harvest surveys. Approximately 26 percent of those folks that actually get one of these permits are actually sampled by the Service for harvest. As you know, Sandhill cranes are a long-lived species, high annual survival rates. It is one of the better ways we have to monitor the species is by harvest.

All right. Moving on to some of those exceptions I stated earlier. The first one would be the addition of veteran waterfowl hunting days. The John Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 was signed by President Trump then. John Dingell, Jr. was a longstanding Representative from Michigan; so that's who it's named after. Unfortunately when we were going to try to implement this in the last couple years, we realized we did not have Legislative statute authority to do this.

There was two companion bills introduced during this last session. There was a bill SB 675 by Kolkhorst and then also by one in the -- in the House. Fortunately the first one to get to the finish line was SB 675 by Kolkhorst and so that allowed us the statute authority to actually implement this special season. Right now, staff are proposing to be concurrent with youth only waterfowl seasons. And then also as we mentioned in the November briefing, there'd be proof of veteran status would be required in the field. Basically, this would be right now as written in staff proposal, this would be your driver's license where you get veteran written on top, as Commissioner Bell pointed out during the November briefing, it'd also be your DD214 or DD215 and basically also a lot latitude with basically any federal paperwork that you had that showed that you're on leave or that you're a veteran would also be allowed in the field as well for these folks to have this special opportunity.

Also within this, there would be a defense to prosecution so in case you would happen to be cited by a game warden and you did go to the judge, you'd obviously be able to get that ticket thrown out. So -- so that -- that's covers the veterans waterfowl hunting days that staff propose to include in the 22-23 hunting season.

And this is what it kind of looks like on a map. Just -- just so you know, this is the High Plain Mallard Management Unit. You can see there in green there's the regular season; but there you can see in that orange color, that's where the youth and veteran days would go in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit. It's primarily on the weekend prior to regular season opening in our three zones.

All right. Moving on to the exceptions with regards to calendar progressions. This one is proposed goose hunting season dates. This would involve the West Zone. As you can see there, proposed seasons would be open November 5th and then run through basically February 5th. This would be a week earlier than current regulations. The reason we do that is the Winchester Lakes area. Some of you may know about. These are large to medium playas in Haskell and Knox County. They do have a large number of Greater white-fronted geese that arrive there in October, late October/early November, and those hunters in those areas would like to take advantage of those Greater white-fronted geese earlier.

We also at the opposite side of the zone, we actually have a lot of Cackling geese in the panhandle a lot of folks hunt. Those birds generally arrive later. So we have early birds and late birds and we just tried to -- basically the best way we can do is kind of monitor the best way as we can, that mitigate those different migration commonality between those species. So this would go a week earlier so those folks in the Winchester Lakes and surrounding areas could take care of those white-fronted geese that arrive early. And this year, we actually had very large concentrations of those geese in those areas.

All right. Moving on with the advisory committees. Staff proposal was discussed regard -- the wild turkey restoration -- or closure of eastern Ellis County, that was -- staff proposal was discussed and supported by the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee in May and then Migratory and Game Bird Advisory Committee supported all staff proposals with one exception and we're just pointing this out now and this in regards to the -- basically the second segment of all the dove zones. Historically in the last few years, we've had those open on Friday. The way the calendar works, is we always open September 1st in the North and Central and try to open September 14th in the South. It's a 90-day season. That's always erratic where those final days show up.

This year, just the way the days work out, we saw that we could have that second segment open on a Saturday and close on a Sunday, to take advantage of as many weekend days as possible. So that's the staff proposal for the second segment of dove seasons. However, the advisory committee would actually like to maintain the consistency we've done the past few years and open on that Friday before that Saturday. So that's the way those calendars would look basically for one of the zones. And so just to outline that and make sure the Commissioners were aware of that advisory -- requested advisory committee difference.

And with that, that concludes my presentation. I'll be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, questions?

Shaun, are you recommending as I guess staff proposal, not what the advisory committee recommended?

MR. OLDENBURGER: That's correct. We just wanted to make sure we pointed that out to the Chairman and Commissioners that that was out there.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And this is for what area?

MR. OLDENBURGER: This would be -- this is basically -- going back to this, this change would be consistent through all the second segments of the dove zones. Basically just moving that opener from that Saturday back to the Friday is what the advisory committee preferred.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Sandhills.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Elaborate a little bit. There's -- there's a Sandhill permit, federal permit required; but we didn't catch it or --

MR. OLDENBURGER: So when we combined -- basically when we combined those previous two proclamations, it was erroneously left out when we combined the early and late. The early was basically your webless species and your late was your waterfowl species. And so when we combined those two, there was just a section in that we unfortunately deleted and we need to add that back in for that requirement.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So it's in addition to a federal duck stamp?

MR. OLDENBURGER: So you don't require a federal duck stamp to Sandhill crane hunt. You don't require -- that's not required. But this is required to hunt Sandhill cranes.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Well, our hunting license --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- you don't need federal for this, but you need a federal Sandhill crane permit?

MR. OLDENBURGER: That's correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners, any questions?

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Yeah, I've got one. Yeah, Shaun, on that Sandhill deal, that -- that has -- we haven't had to have that stamp for I guess forever, huh?

MR. OLDENBURGER: No. That's been a requirement and I've have to look up, Commissioner Scott, to when that was enforced and the reason we did that, that has been a free -- that's always been a free basically -- a basic license you could get from us, right? And so when we initially did that, it kind of operated that every -- since it was free, everybody kind of got it. So we were signing up hundreds of thousands of people for this crane permit, when in reality we knew there was probably 10 to 12,000 people that were Sandhill crane hunting permit. So what we did in the past, is we restricted where you could get the federal Sandhill crane hunting permit either online, over the phone, or at your Leo's. And so what that -- that reduced that number way back. That reduced that number to like 80, 70,000, that folks -- a lot of folks just get it because in case they're out waterfowl hunting and they see a Sandhill crane then they could harvest it if seasons were open. And so that basically -- we had issues with the Service because we were unable to estimate to within any accuracy the Sandhill crane harvest in Texas. And so what this did is implemented a process where we could actually do that.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Do you foresee that they'll ever increase the limit?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Well, that's a good question. So the mid-cont -- mid-continent Sandhill crane population is doing very healthy. There's probably over a million birds right now in that population. I will say Sandhill crane hunting is getting to be very popular in the State of Texas. I believe last years harvest estimates were around 100,000, which was actually -- which was I think more than double of where our highest harvest estimate has ever been. So up in the panhandle, it's getting very popular. It's very -- you know, very important to local economies up there as well. I -- I hate to speculate what may happen in the future, especially with Fish and Wildlife Service. But you know right now, we have 93-day seasons up there. We have the most liberal seasons in the Flyway in Texas. So hopefully we can just maintain those.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Well, if anybody hadn't had ribeye from the sky, then they --

MR. OLDENBURGER: They're missing out.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: We know why they're -- that's why I'm curious if they're going to raise that limit because it's pretty low now in my estimation as many of them as we see every day.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Anyway, thank you.

MR. OLDENBURGER: As a counterpart from North Dakota said, it's like a lawn chair falling out of the sky.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: What's -- what's the federal permit cost?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: You just have to go online and get it?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Online, 1-800 number, or at a law enforcement --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: A federal permit's free?

MR. OLDENBURGER: We -- we call it -- we call it that. By -- by -- by rule, we call it that; but really in reality it is a state permit because you don't have to get those in other states. They don't have the issue we have because they don't have the number of hunters we have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Questions, any other --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: All right. Yeah, Patton. So on a lifetime hunting license, is it still required or is it inclusive like the other stamps?

MR. OLDENBURGER: That's a great question, Commissioner. I'd have to get back to you on that one.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: You do still have to get the permit.


COMMISSIONER ABELL: Because I apply for it every year; but like you said, it's free. It's just an add-on to the license.

MR. OLDENBURGER: It's like HIP as well. And if you have a -- if you have lifetime license, you still have to get HIP on an annual basis.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, Shaun, thank you.

If there's no other questions, I'll authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Thank you, Shaun and Shawn and Alan. And I see Alan's back up.

We're Work Session Item No. 13, Comprehensive Chronic Wasting Disease, CWD Management Rules, Triple T Provisions, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register, Mr. Alan Cain. Welcome, Alan.

MR. CAIN: Thank you again. For the record, my name's is Alan Cain, White-tailed Deer Program Leader in the Wildlife Division and this morning I'll be requesting permission to publish staff's proposal regarding the Trap, Transport, and Transplant Permit commonly referred to as Triple T.

As you recall, this Commission adopted rules to suspend the Triple T Program as part of the comprehensive CWD rule package at the November Commission Meeting and that was in response to the discovery of CWD in a number of captive facilities and associated epi-linked release sites back in 2021. Obviously, that suspension was a prudent response to allow the Department time to assess the potential introduction of the extent of CWD in those free-ranging populations in or around those trace-out release sites.

Now taking in account the number of comments received from landowners that utilize and/or value the Triple T Permit, at least back in November/October around that Commission Meeting, the Commission directed staff to develop a proposal for consideration to bring the Triple T back online, which is what I'm presenting today. So before I present the proposed changes, I would like to provide some background information about the Triple T Program and some of the statistics on the use of the permit to provide some context when we're thinking about these proposed changes.

So the table on the slide denotes the Triple T permits issued from 2015 to 2020, with a breakdown by low-fence and high-fence trap and release sites. So the trap sites are depicted in the yellow columns and the release sites are depicted in the green columns. And so there's a couple of key points to note. So one is that in 2015, Triple T was a fairly active permit. We had 73 permits issued that year, represented 57 trap sites and 103 release sites. And in years prior to 2015 -- so '14 and back -- permit issues would have been similar, if not potentially more. However, with the discovery of CWD in captive facilities in Medina County in 2015, the number of Triple T permits that people participated in the program declined significantly and you can note that by the 64 percent decline in the number of permits issued between 2015 and then 2016.

Obviously, that drop was probably in response to the concerns about CWD, either folks moving or receiving those deer. And then as the Department staff began to get a better understanding of whatever -- where CWD was in the state through our increased surveillance, landowners probably became more comfortable with using the program again and so you see that uptick in the number of permits issued in 2019 and '20.

So over the six-year period, we moved a total of 9,398 deer, have been trapped and relocated and averages out to about 1,500 deer per year being relocated. As a comparison, deer breeder releases account for an average of about 30,000 deer released per year. And another important point to note from this table is that the majority of the trap and release sites are high-fence properties and so those municipalities or property owner associations account for the majority of low-fence trap sites and they use Triple T as a tool to manage those urban deer populations where either hunting's not allowed or not permissible or simply not popular with those residents in those communities over there. And then you see a lot of the low-fence release sites and I'll have some maps to illustrate this in a minute, but they're located in the western Edwards Plateau where you have anthrax outbreaks or mortality events and folks looking to restock their deer populations over there.

So another important point to consider is the frequency at which trapping occurs on individual trap sites, especially as it relates to CWD testing history or lack thereof on a particular property. So this table provides a summary of that information pertaining to Triple T trap sites again over the last six years -- so from 2015 to 2020 -- and including the frequency those properties served as trap sites during that time. So of the 111 unique permitted Triple T trap sites, 73 or 65 percent only trapped once during that six-year period. In fact, only 13 of the 111 trap sites, which amounts to about 12 percent, have been consistent Triple T trap sites, trapping at least four of the six years during that six-year time period.

So in other words, there's very few properties that serve as long-time trap sites or have long-term CWD testing history on them and that's just an important point you want to think about as we go through the proposal. There's just a few of these folks that are long-term trap sites that have all this history.

So like the previous table, this table provides a summary of information pertaining to Triple T release sites over the last six years and the frequency at which a property served as a release site. Now like the trap sites, most release sites received deer once during the last six years. In fact, only 7 percent of properties received deer three or more times in the last six years. I've got some maps to kind of help illustrate where those trap and release sites occur over the -- over the state. That will come up.

Okay. So this image provides a geographic context where high-fence trap sites are, showing the number of Triple T trap sites by county. As you can see, most of the high-fence trap sites are in South Texas where intensive deer management is a common practice and programs such as Triple T are used as management tools on properties down here. Frio and La Salle Counties moved the most deer through the Triple T Program in the past six years, with 1,645 and 1,429 deer moved respectively in those counties. Followed by McMullen County with 880 and Live Oak County 760. And the vast majority of other counties you see on the map there, the cumulative number of deer moved over that six-year period in the individual counties is less than 250 animals in the vast majority of those.

So as far as low-fence trap sites around the state, as I mentioned earlier, most of those occur in urban areas trying to manage those deer populations or on some ranches that may have a combination of low- and high-fence pastures and they're moving out of the high-fence pasture, Triple T'ing to low-fence pasture adjacent there. And again, not a whole lot of low-fence trap sites around the state.

So as noted in the table I talked about earlier on release sites, there's over 300 Triple T release sites -- I think 301 -- in the last six years. And again this map provides an overview of all release sites in the state, both high- and low-fence. Again, to me, when I put all this data together, it was a bit of surprise to see the number of release sites in South Texas and the Hill Country where you have the highest deer density in the state in the Hill Country. But maybe some of this makes sense. So showing only the high-fence release sites on this slide, again you see a lot of deer being released in South Texas. Those are probably places that are either likely to rebuild populations on properties that were recently fenced, but didn't catch a lot of deer in there when they completed the fence closure or properties that may be seeking genetic enhancement or purposes for that reason for releasing deer.

And then when you look at the low-fence release sites around the state, you'll note that many of those are concentrated in the western Edwards Plateau. Again, as I mentioned, where these landowners have probably experienced significant anthrax mortality events and using the Triple T Program to restock deer populations in those areas where they experienced declines in deer populations.

All right. There we go. Also, I just wanted to provide the Commission with a short summary of important components of the current Triple T rules. This is a bit of a comparison to what staff are going to propose today. So the first point to note is that Triple T allows trapping from and releasing onto both high- and low-fenced properties. With regards to what properties are prohibited from Triple T, current rules prohibit trapping from any property within five years of a breeder release. So, for example, if I release deer on a ranch that I owned in 2020, I wouldn't be eligible to be a trap site until 2025. Also, we prohibit Triple T from any property that's currently under a hold order or quarantine with Texas Animal Health Commission; any property where there's CWD suspect or CWD positive animals; or from CWD zones, both surveillance and containment zones, those are prohibited from being Triple T trap sites.

So properties that want to serve as a Triple T trap site are required currently to submit 15 not-detected postmortem test results in the current permit year. However, there is an exception that does not require any CWD tests when moving deer between pastures on a property under the same ownership. So, you know, like I talked about earlier, the high-fence, I'm going to Triple T out of here to my low-fence pasture or between two high-fenced pastures or whatever the scenario is. And lastly, current rules require all deer moved under the authority of a Triple T permit to be tattooed and have an RFID 840 tag.

So after a bunch of deliberation and discussion, staff have developed the following proposal for consideration and recommend changes that are -- the recommended changes that staff have are in bold and italics font. So all the current rules in place, those grayed out there, would still remain in effect; but staff are proposing to prohibit Triple T from any property within a 2-mile radius of an epi-linked breeder facility until movement qualified status is returned to that facility or restored and any property within a 5-mile radius of a breeder release site subject to a hold order or quarantine until that property has been released from that hold order or quarantine. And again, these 2- to 5-mile buffer distances, these are consistent with the current distances the Department uses to establish CWD containment zones around CWD positive breeder facilities or CWD release sites.

Additionally, staff also propose to prohibit Triple T trapping from any property the Department deems as an unacceptable risk based on the epidemiological assessment. Again, this just gives the Department flexibility to make individual assessments of properties that may pose risks to moving CWD, but don't necessarily fall within one of the previously mentioned categories.

So staff are proposing two sets of CWD test requirements at trap sites based on risk exposure to CWD: Those that have not received breeder deer and those that have been breeder deer release sites at some point in the past. So for properties that have not received breeder deer, we would require that trap site to submit 60 not-detected postmortem tests. Those samples could be collected in the current permit year for which the permit is sought -- obviously, prior to moving those deer -- or over multiple consecutive years prior to application; but if you're going to collect samples over those multiple consecutive years, then you need to have a minimum of 15 not-detected postmortem tests for each year.

Again, the 60 samples, the reason we select that number is that testing rate would provide a 95 percent confidence that we could detect CWD if it were present at a 5 percent prevalence in that population if CWD was present in that population at the time sampling began. Again, because most of these trap sites are high-fence, they're likely to be closed population for the most part and if CWD were present in there, it's likely to have been there a while and we should expect to be able to reasonably detect the disease with this sampling rate.

So for trap sites that are also breeder deer release sites, the Department would require 120 not-detected postmortem tests. Those samples may be collected again in the current permit year for which the permit is sought or over multiple consecutive years prior to the application; but again, if you're going to collect over multiple consecutive years, you've got to have a minimum of 15 postmortem not-detected tests for each of those years.

Additionally, a trap site could not begin CWD sampling any earlier than two years following the breeder deer release date. In other words, they may begin testing in year three after breeder deer have been released on that property to work towards that Triple T trap site status. Staff also believe that higher testing requirement is justified for breeder deer release sites because CWD is more likely to have been a recent introduction, obviously, if you're moving deer in and so is it's likely to be at a lower prevalence if there's a recent introduction or recent liberation of deer and so it requires either a higher sampling rate or more time to be able to detect that disease. And this would be especially true for release sites that receive deer prior to the recent comprehensive rule change and where increased testing requirements of breeder deer that y'all just adopted. So before that date, you know, we had less confidence we could pick up the disease; but with the new rules hopefully moving forward, we have much better confidence we can detect CWD before it gets moved to a release site.

So again, once the trap site has achieved the initial CWD testing requirements, to remain eligible as a trap site property -- so to maintain trap site status -- they must continue to provide 15 postmortem not-detected tests each year, regardless of whether you're Triple T'ing that year or not. You need to maintain that status. So if the trap site falls short of the number of tests, then they can regain that trap site status by starting over, providing the 120 or 60 postmortem not-detected tests required to obtain that initial status.

Staff also propose clearly visible Department ear tags be required such as a bangle tag, like a cattle tag or sheep and goat tag on the deer. Again, this visible ID would aid in locating specific deer on these release sites should there be an issue or we need to find that deer. And again in current practice, the vast majority of Triple T release sites are ear tagging their deer. In fact, there's a property I work with. They've been Triple T'ing for 18 years and I can remember twice out of that whole time that a release site didn't want ear tags. And so this is a pretty normal practice to require ear tags on these properties.

And then finally the last portion of the proposal would be to require CWD testing for any trap site, including when your Triple T'ing occurs between adjacent pastures or between pastures on a property under the same ownership. And again, staff reason that in most cases these are independent populations and so the vast majority again are high-fenced. So you're moving from one population to a completely different population, which would warrant testing, CWD testing there.

So staff have had a opportunity to meet with the CWD Task Force, the Private Lands Advisory Committee, and the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee to discuss the Triple T proposal and receive feedback. As you can expect, there was a diverse number of opinions about the proposal and several suggestions to modify certain aspects of the proposal. Collectively there were some underlying sentiments and themes from all the committees and the following is a summary of those comments. And I think the most important is that all members of the committees recognize the risk of moving live deer and do not want to intentionally move CWD around the state; but a majority also recognize the importance of Triple T as a management tool for landowners and are supportive of reinstating the Triple T at some point in time. However, the tolerance for risk and opinions on if and when Triple T should resume vary greatly among the committee members. Some were supportive of the program or supportive of the proposal and recommended resuming the program now and noting there is relatively small number of deer being moved in a given year and with enhanced testing requirements being proposed, relatively few trap sites would likely meet those requirements to be eligible as a trap site, at least in the near future and so the overall risk is relatively low.

On the other hand, some were recommending discontinuing of the Triple T Program considering there's relatively few number of landowners that utilize the program and there's a -- the risk is too great for spreading CWD around the state. Now despite these extreme differences of opinions by some of the committee members, the majority of participants express support for reinstating the Triple T Program, but felt it was premature to resume Triple T until the Department had time to fully assess the risk of these epi-linked facilities where breeder deer may have been released.

If I recall, I believe there's about 75 total trace-out sites related to the 2021 CWD discovery and there are about another 30 or so related to the 2015 CWD discovery that hadn't been resolved. In other words, they're under a hold order or a herd plan or just hadn't moved out of the quarantine or hold order status and so the Department, as well as Texas Animal Health Commission, are in the process of continuing to assess these sites.

And so another notable point of discussion was the different testing requirements for trap sites types between breeder release sites or nonbreeder release sites. So several members recommended testing be the same between the different property types, noting that the five-year period before trapping could be allowed and having to wait two years to begin that testing post-release should be sufficient to detect CWD if it was recently introduced with the 60 test. Furthermore, these individuals also suggest that properties that receive deer from certified herds, should only have to submit 60 tests since those certified herd -- deer are going to release sites, have surveillance than free-ranging population on that ranch to which those breeder deer are being released.

On the other end of the spectrum, some folks noted that CWD surveillance prior to the new rule package again was not sufficient to detect CWD in a timely manner and CWD could have been unknowingly introduced on some of these release sites. Therefore, they suggest we need a greater testing requirement fore breeder release sites. And then we had some individuals that suggested the testing rate be similar between the two types of trap sites; but at a much higher rate, such as 99 percent confidence we could detect the disease at a 5 percent prevalence rate, which is about 90 samples.

The majority of the committee members also felt that the initial 2-mile radius buffer around the property for an epi-linked facility was too small and so they suggested that expan -- staff expand that buffer area from anywhere from 5 to 25 miles. So staff's initial recommendation was just a single 2-mile buffer around epi-linked facilities when we were presenting to these advisory committees; but again, based on some additional input from the CWD Task Force, staff modified the proposal to include what you see now, a 5-mile buffer around epi-linked release sites and a 2-mile buffer around epi-linked breeder facilities. And again, that's consistent with our methodology on how we establish containment zones around positive deer breeder facilities or positive deer breeder release sites.

We did hear a number of comments from the committee that recommend the Department use research and data on deer movement to justify buffer zones around the epi-linked facilities. However, there are a variety of factors that affect deer movements, dispersal, and retention within a high-fence on these epi-linked facilities and, in general, these buffers are consistent with normal or average deer movements in home ranges.

So two individuals also recommended that CWD testing not be required when moving deer between adjacent pastures on the same property under the same ownership. Again, those folks noted -- there was just a couple of them, I think two -- noting that examples of landowners having a small high-fenced pasture and they were wanting to move deer between that pasture to an adjacent pasture; but they would never be able to meet that testing requirement of 60 samples with a minimum of 15 a year because they had so few deer in there and such a small annual harvest.

These two individuals also suggested that deer on these particular adjacent trap sites are the deer -- the same population be on ranch prior to creating multiple high-fences, as long as no deer had ever been released onto these individual pastures. And the same with the low-fence property, wanted to move deer from one side of the ranch to the other. So these folks made some comments like, Hey, if I couldn't Triple T between pastures from my own property because of testing requirements, then it would force them to consider purchasing breeder deer for release as an alternative.

So following that recommendation, these same individuals suggested that they cannot achieve CWD testing with the number of tests required for native species of White-tailed or Mule deer, that CWD tests from CWD susceptibility exotic species be allowed to help fulfill testing requirements on a trap site.

And then we had several individuals that recommended Triple T not be allowed to low-fence release sites, citing the fact that breeder deer can only be released on high-fenced properties. Also noting again the risk of spreading CWD to low-fenced populations where released deer are much more likely to disperse from the intended release site into neighboring properties or areas. However, keep in mind that restriction only to high-fenced properties kind of defeats the purpose of Triple T as a tool for restocking purposes, especially in areas of the state affected by large-scale anthrax outbreaks or disease outbreaks.

Several individuals also recommended release site testing in hunter-harvested deer from some time period post-release, primarily as a way to help assess whether these enhanced Triple T rules are effective at mitigating the spread of CWD.

And then lastly, folks recommended that the Department continue to monitor the success of the Triple T Program by whatever data is appropriate and evaluate the continued participation in the program. And so we greatly appreciate -- staff do greatly appreciate the valuable input from all these advisory committees and wanted to make sure the Commission had an opportunity to hear the various viewpoints and recommendations from these committees.

That concludes my presentation, and I'll be glad to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Alan. A lot of information there. But staff is recommending Triple T proposal with these restrictions that are spelled out?

MR. CAIN: Yes.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And new and improved version which we kind of said -- I don't remember -- in months past that our goal would be to bring it back, but a safer and better Triple T.

Comments, questions, Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. Patton. I think these are kind of being clarification, making sure I understand what's actually getting proposed versus what was a recommendation or a comment that you were making us aware of. So if you're a landowner and you have a high-fence area and you're looking to Triple T into your own property which is low-fence, that's -- that's okay, right?

MR. CAIN: You -- so correct. You could still Triple T. What we're proposing to change is that you would have to test.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, I was going to get that, but --

MR. CAIN: Okay.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- I'm trying to take them one at a time.

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So what I said is correct?

MR. CAIN: Yes, you can Triple T.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I don't have to high-fence my whole ranch to be able to Triple T from --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- high-fence pasture into a low-fence. Okay, so that's -- that's fine. Now, then previously under the old rules, I didn't have to provide samples to do that. I could just get my permit, and then fill the permit.

MR. CAIN: Yes.


MR. CAIN: That's correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: All right. So now where it's -- it's being recommended that we do 60, I need to go collect 60 samples and if that permit were going to be issued say for November or December of 2022, I could use what's left of this year to collect samples, even though the rule's not really passed or -- yet?

MR. CAIN: Yeah, so that's a good point. In fact, I should note that we've sent notices, e-mails, and called a number of these trap sites that have been trapping consistently over a number of years that might want to continue, for example, like if you to --


MR. CAIN: And so --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, I didn't get a notice --

MR. CAIN: So --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- that I'm aware of.

MR. CAIN: Well, I'll have to look. I'm pretty sure -- well, we'll look at the e-mails --


MR. CAIN: -- but I'm pretty sure something got sent. But anyway --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I haven't gotten my refund check yet either for 2021. So hopefully you would allow me to use that money for the next one.

MR. CAIN: But the point being is we told folks, look, if you want to trap in the future, if the Commission adopts something, then have some testing in place right now. So you've got the rest of whatever season's left that you can utilize to collect additional samples. Need 15, so I mean --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Do I need 15, or do I need 60?

MR. CAIN: Well, you need 60 tests; but if you collect -- say you -- for example, if -- the rest of the season I can only harvest another 15 or 20 deer, I need at least 15 tests as part of the consecutive testing requirements. You could get 60 all this -- the rest of this year. You could get 60 next fall when you start hunting again or you could get 15 this year and 45 next fall.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Yeah, but if I want to Triple T next December --

MR. CAIN: You need -- you need a total of 60 tests --


MR. CAIN: -- whether it occurs part this -- part of it this year --


MR. CAIN: -- and then the rest of the balance next season. If you're going to use samples over consecutive years, you have to a minimum of 15 per year. So you can't just collect five samples this year, for example, and have them count for --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Is it correct if somebody had collected 15 samples a year for the past four years, they would have their 60?

MR. CAIN: Yes, and then in the current year, you need to collect --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Fifteen more.

MR. CAIN: -- fifteen more.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. Yeah, because I -- again, I'm going off my -- I think I may not have collected samples over the last two years, but I think I did three years ago and four years ago.

MR. CAIN: But it's the --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, now it's going to be one and two, I guess.

MR. CAIN: Yeah, because the proposal is you can collect all the samples in the current permit year that you're applying for or it can be multiple consecutive years prior to the year that --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: But if you're -- no one's collected a sample. That's effectively just lip service because no one's collected a sample because we didn't have Triple T in '21.

MR. CAIN: Yeah, but there's a number of folks that are collecting. Like I said, we tried to send notices out to the people that are multiyear trap sites and say, Hey, if you're going to do this, you need to, you know, continue on. If you want to count this multiple consecutive year --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I don't think it -- okay, got it. Okay, I think that's all I've got.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Questions? Comments?

COMMISSIONER BELL: I think we have a lot of focus on the 60 or so. If you test -- is 60 a good number? What if someone has a small -- smaller population, is -- are we trying to go in a ratio? Is 60 an absolute number, regardless of what you have and then how does that line up with if we were kind of comparing the -- you might say the rules or restriction to what deer breeders are required to do, how does that match up?

MR. CAIN: So let me take the first part and I may ask Mitch or Dr. Reed to come up here to address the deer breeder stuff. But if I have a small pop -- 60 still gets you 95 and 5. That's just what that number is. Now, if you had a smaller population -- say I had 30 deer on my place or something, to be 95/5 it's still going to be close to almost testing that entire population on the property. So -- and I don't -- without plugging the numbers into a calculator; but if I had 45 deer on my place, I'm probably going to have to test 40 of those to be close to 95/5. And so I suspect most of those places, very small populations are not going to be Triple T trap sites and probably not going to harvest enough or it may take them many years to achieve that. It may take them ten years to achieve that if they're only killing 15 a year or -- well, they'd have to kill -- it's going to take them four years at least to get there.

And then, Mitch or Hunter, do y'all want to address the comparison between the 95/5 and deer breeders --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: What I think he's talking about, Alan, is I assume you're talking about -- and it's not breeder. It's ranches that have ever received breeder released deer.

Is that what you're talking about?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: And that's what this suggestion is 120 for them.

MR. CAIN: Oh, not in the pens. Okay. And so again, the 120 samples, staff felt that the risk is higher on these deer breeder release sites and again, like I mentioned earlier, because if CWD is out there, it's more likely to be a recent introduction. And so to detect the disease, we need to test at a higher rate. So what we're talking about with the 120 is a 95 percent confidence we can detect the disease at two and a half percent prevalence if it was there when we started testing so in the third year post-release.

And because the thing is if you released a CWD positive deer on a release site in year one, it may take -- I don't know -- five years or more -- nobody knows exactly -- but before that prevalence gets up high enough where you can detect it at that -- you know, with the 60 tests. And so we want to be more sensitive to that and test at a higher rate on those breeder release sites.

COMMISSIONER BELL: I'm going to -- I'm going to -- I'm going to pause and just think about that for a second in case someone else has a question. I've got to process that.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I'm not quite sure how this ties into this; but back when we had the November meeting, one issue that came up was about the number of overall samples that we're getting, you know, in everything -- MLDP, regular hunters, breeders, all of the above, right? And at that time the Chairman asked and as did some of us, that we wanted to look at a better way to get more samples. So I don't know if y'all have done anything as it relates to Triple T to try to tie in MLDP or not.

I'm curious to know the answer to that question because there's nothing brought up in this one and y'all were given -- tasked with the same thing about January would be nice, but March is a deadline, as I remember that's what we were -- the information we were asking for. So given that, how does that tie back into Triple T on numbers and everything?

MR. CAIN: I don't -- well, I don't think that -- the MLD, I think, discussion we had back in November was just how we could increase sampling around the state. We didn't tie that necessarily back to Triple T, the permit or the changes here because those are specific to those particular properties. Now staff are -- we continue to reach out to our MLD cooperators, send out additional surveys, or staff call folks and -- or, you know, trying to collect as many samples they can and reach out to MLD cooperators and just gather support. In fact, I think the last numbers I looked at a week or so ago, 26 percent or so of the hunter-harvested samples we have are from MLD properties, which is a significant number. But as related to ML -- or Triple T, those are two different issues.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Well, they may be two different issues to you; but they're not to me because I see it all -- we were looking at a very big picture. That was our -- that was what we were trying to accomplish, at least that's what I -- that was my understanding. So if we're not doing any -- if we're not going to have anything as it relates to MLDP by March, then in effect, we're going to end up getting right back in the same trap that we're in about the un -- the disparity between the number of tests for different things.


MR. CAIN: So --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Oh, go ahead.

MR. CAIN: Well, John reminded me that we will have a briefing item about the MLD and enhanced surveillance related to that particular program. But as far as the Triple T proposal we're talking about today, those are different -- different issues. But we will have a briefing in March.

MR. SMITH: Just and to that point too, Alan, I want to make sure that the Vice-Chairman understands we will have a briefing in March. So thank you for clarifying that. But are we not at 170 or 180 percent of our goals for surveillance of free-range --

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

MR. SMITH: -- deer this year?

MR. CAIN: So we're at 13,500 samples. So we're way above -- to Carter's point -- our sampling goal. I guess I'm just not seeing how this -- the MLD sampling relates to the requirements for a Triple T, a property be a Triple T trap site unless you're wanting to suggest that we look at the sampling in a DMU and use that in conjunction with this information or this requirement for the 60 or 120.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Well, once again we have a disparity on what's tested the most and I thought the ambition was to try to get things semi -- you know, at least close. And my understanding was that we had to have more of MLDP. Now, perhaps y'all haven't given us that information yet.

MR. CAIN: Well, and I think the other thing to keep in mind, it's not necessarily equity between the two programs because Triple T, we're talking about moving deer. We're moving a risk from one property to somewhere else and so we don't want to spread the disease and so the testing requirements need to be higher for somebody that's participating in this program versus a regular MLD property out there.

MR. LOCKWOOD: I think that's a great point. Mitch Lockwood, Big Game Program Director. As you've heard me say at least a couple times, Mr. Vice-Chair, there's really two main reasons for this testing. One is general surveillance, and one is to provide the confidence that we're not permitting the transmission of this disease from one location to another. That second objective certainly requires a lot more testing to provide that confidence. And so that's what Alan means when we don't -- we don't really see that as a disparity. They're just two different objectives.

Our MLD participants aren't spreading that risk, unless there's another permit that they are holding that's allowing the movement of, say, live animals. But as Carter said, we actually are very proud of the surveillance program that we've had for the last several years in this state and have exceeded our goals in almost every DMU. But as I've shared with you before, we're constantly looking for not just ways to get more samples; but more importantly, more efficient ways to get our surveillance accomplished and we have had a lot of communication with MLDP cooperators to try and figure out ways we can fill -- get more efficient.

And as Chairman Emeritus Bass said at a pervious meeting, we think maybe some of our cooperators in that program can help us get some better surveillance in areas where we're lacking some. Where we have, say, lower densities, lower hunting pressure, lower harvest, and harder to get samples, that we can use these cooperators hopefully to get more strategic with that sampling.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I look forward to getting the most current data, whatever it is.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mitch. And we have, as you said -- I don't know the percentage -- but we far exceeded. I mean, we're over 13,000 samples. So that's -- that's incredible. What -- what strikes me and then we'll hear what any other Commissioners think -- if y'all be thinking of your questions if you have any -- when I look at the proposal and we did task y'all with coming back with a new and improved Triple T Program because it's a good program, so I do feel like this is improved. So thank you for that. One thing I'd like to debate or discuss and see if we can accomplish, is I would like to find a place where we can get that both segments, both ranch properties, we can get them to a place where they're treated the same, similar on this testing requirement.

So we know if a Triple T site has never had a breeder released deer on their property, then under your recommendation they need 60. You can get them 15 a year consecutive or 60 all at once. You're recommending 2-miles from a breeder facility that is a known positive. You're recommending 5 miles from a release site from a breeder facility that is a known positive that's -- it's a trace-out site.

MR. CAIN: Not necessarily the known positive, but epi-linked. So they're --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Epi-linked is the terminology. And so I think -- I think that's good. I think that radius that the advisory group suggested y'all put in, I like that. The 60 I think is -- it's an increase, but we asked y'all to go increase the requirements. So I like that.

One thing that occurs to me is through the discussion of getting the sites that had breeder released deer in the past, with your proposal they have a five-year moratorium before they can do anything. So I'd like to have the discussion/debate is after five years, you've been on the sideline and in the future you're suggesting that we maintain that five-year you're on the sideline. After five years, can we get to a place -- especially if we increase this radius -- can we get to a place where that ranch owner or landowner can also sample 60 instead of having 60 for the I've never received a breeder deer kind of picture and doubling it to 120? I'd like to get to an equality place if we could and I present to you that maybe instead of the two-year, you can't test -- you have to wait two years after to test?

MR. CAIN: Yes.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Even if you could take that five years, they already have to wait five years. So can we get to a place where the two goes to five years and the 120 goes to 60 and so that ranch owner had to wait five years after receiving an animal from a breeder facility and I've had some conversations with some of staff and believe that going from two years to five really, really helps from an epi position.

MR. CAIN: We would agree. I mean, if we were going to lower the sample numbers for breeder release sites to 60, I think staff would feel more comfortable if the testing on that breeder release site didn't start until five years post-release and then that way it gives you time -- not that -- we like to detect disease early, but it's going to be hard to do that with fewer samples. So if we want to detect the disease, five years down the road at 60 samples would give us more confidence and then not being able to collect those samples until the fifth year, what you're talking about.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So you believe it does give you more --

MR. CAIN: That would give us --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So that I'm kind of talking about, Commissioners, is trying to find a way that says five years, you've been in that position, you haven't taken a deer in five years, now you can get in on the program with 60 tests; but you can't start testing prior to five years. Then we could have equality of the same number, the same test number, instead of having the double, which is the proposal now.

MR. CAIN: That would give staff much more confidence. As you recall back I think in the November meeting, staff had proposed that, you know, no Triple T from any breeder release site and then we talked about, well, that's forever and so that's a long -- you know, it's an issue. We didn't want to tie somebody up forever. And so the 120 is what staff came up with to give us comfort; but as an alternative, what you're suggesting is a good solution if you want to balance the sampling rate between the two trap site types. Just as long as testing doesn't start until five years post-release. So that's a good option if the Commission would like to change the proposal to that.

COMMISSIONER BELL: I have a question on one point. If I -- and this is an opportunity to educate me, I guess, even more. If I'm -- if I'm a site, if I get a deer from a site that's already -- they're coming in, they're movement eligible, they're five years clear, I have no issues, I get a new deer, I have to start a whole new five-year time table or I'm okay? Because at some point in time, we have to say we have some confidence in this movement we made, right? Or is this -- so in other words, if there's supposedly nothing going on here and they make this move and then all of a sudden now I get told I have to go into this program, instead of I should still -- on one hand, it tells me I should still be clear, right?

MR. CAIN: So just so I'm clear, you're talking about if I'm a -- maybe this example. I have a ranch. I received Triple T deer from somewhere else and then I want to move again and be a trap site or are you talking about receiving breeder deer?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Let's say that Mitch has a ranch and he's a breeder and I get -- and he passes all of our muster for being movement eligible and I get a -- and I'm a Triple T site. I get a deer from Mitch and then later on, I want to move deer; but are --

MR. CAIN: So that's a good question. So you, when you receive -- if Mitch is eligible, his ranch is a Triple T site, and he's a breeder release site and he sends deer to you, at some point if you want to move deer later, you're only required to test 60 deer. You're not a deer breeder release site. You're not a registered release site.

MR. LOCKWOOD: I think he's saying if he was a release site.


MR. CAIN: Well --

COMMISSIONER BELL: I'm just talking about the movement of the deer, the second movement. So if the first -- if the person you're getting it from is clear, if you're the second person moving and you were -- up until that point in time, you were clear, what are the new standards? Am I -- can I take -- could I take that deer and shift that one?

MR. CAIN: You could still Triple T -- well, you -- no.


MR. CAIN: If you're talking about you receive -- on your ranch you receive deer from Mitch through a Triple T Program and then you want to Triple T off to somewhere else, you still have to meet the testing requirements of 60 samples. You're not a deer breeder release site. You know, if we're under the current proposal, you'd have to test 120. But you'd still have to test 60 deer or achieve that testing status before you can move deer off. Because even though you may have received deer from Mitch and you may have confidence that, you know, it wasn't CWD on that place coming to yours, we don't know about the population that exists on your ranch either. And so we need to have confidence that whenever we're moving deer, we have some testing history that goes along with that.

COMMISSIONER BELL: I'm just trying to understand the process.

MR. CAIN: No, it's a good question because it -- there gets to be some confusion certainly.

MR. SMITH: Commissioner, it might also help, you know, recognizing there are a lot of models for wildlife and deer management that are out there; but, you know, the notion of a release site for an approved release site to get breeder deer that are approved to move there, that really was designed or contemplated initially to be a terminal site. Right? I mean, that deer was going there to stay there. Not then to be moved from that release site somewhere else. Does that make sense?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: In addition, I didn't mention I really like your visible tag suggestion. I think that's critical because we're releasing deer and then for us to be able to go identify, so I -- I very much support the visible tag. And so good questions.

Oliver, I suggest that -- well, let's hear how the other Commissioners feel. But I'd like to get to a place where we can get this the same and five years seems to be getting to a point in time where it's fair to submit that that ranch can be on the same terms as the other ranch. I -- but I mentioned the testing. I think from an epidemiological perspective, that's important that it goes from two to five years; but it's not an increased amount. It's just when you can take them.

MR. CAIN: Right.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And then the advisory group is recommending a radius, a buffer, which I absolutely support and could even engage in conversation of increasing that buffer a little more if we're going to go from 120 to 60, because we're talking about a buffer where we believe there could be a problem.

And then finally on your thing it mentioned that there's some flexibility, Department -- y'all -- the Department has flexibility to be involved in these decisions for unusual, you know, factors. So I've seen y'all's proposal. I suggest maybe we consider how the Commission feels about trying to get on the same page for both of these groups, meaning 60 for both of them, and tweaking the language that I've mentioned.

Any thoughts?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, Patton. You know, my thought is, yeah, it's great for it all to be equal; but they're not equal because, you know, you're talking about that side of the spectrum. I'm still thinking about the guy that's got the high-fenced pasture that may not have 60 deer in that pasture that he's just kind of wanting to Triple T out onto his ranch. You know, he's going to end up just opening the gate or taking that high fence down. And then, you know, has that really helped anything?

And so I -- you know, in a way, I kind of wonder if there wouldn't be a -- you know, an application or where maybe you have a biologist that says -- our biologist that says, you know, 60 -- 60 samples isn't reasonable, maybe we can on a case-by-case basis have fewer. Particularly if there's only a few cases that it's going to affect. It would be like a variance. Is that even possible or feasible?

MR. CAIN: I'm sorry. I was asking Mitch a question. I want to make sure that -- you made a comment about somebody taking down a fence if, you know, they can't Triple T into their --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, if it's their ranch, you know, if you have a 10,000-acre ranch and you've got a, you know, a 500-acre high-fenced area, you're just really trying to manage the deer that you have in that high-fence and rather than, you know, kill them or in terms of management, you just want to Triple T them and let them out. In the past, you've had no requirement for a CWD and now they're kind of being lumped in to the -- you know, they're going from zero to 60, rather than -- whatever it was -- 15 or 20 to 60. What was it previously if you were -- if they were going off your property? If you're Triple T'ing off --

MR. CAIN: It's just 15.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Fifteen, yeah. So, you know, they're -- you know, there's 4X, but it's more than 4X. It's 60X for the landowner that is just moving deer within his pasture, his ranch from one pasture to the other.

MR. CAIN: And that's understandable. You know, there could be a whole host of scenarios. Again, staff look at those as independent populations because, you know, an example could be you've got this high-fenced pasture and it borders some other place here, it's on the border, and you want to move deer from there, you know, to your low-fence over here and we still don't have 100 percent confidence CWD not there and so before we move anything, even to a low-fence, especially in that example, we don't want those deer taking off across the country to neighbors and so we --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, yeah, but I know you don't want that. But, I mean, you're actually going to maybe as a practical matter force it. They'll just take their high fence down.

MR. CAIN: Well, and that's certainly their prerogative --


MR. CAIN: -- right now, unless you're a deer breeder release site.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Right. No, I'm not -- I don't want to complicate it with that. No deer breeder issues here. We're just talking about --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And to clarify, if you have high-fence and a low-fence and you own both properties, there's no requirement -- and you're just a ranch owner. You're not in the breeding business. There's no requirement to keep your high fence up, correct?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, I didn't think so. I just...


MR. CAIN: I mean, you make a good point; but I -- staff's position is that we need testing just to, you know, increase surveillance. And especially if we're moving deer, we want to make sure that we're providing due diligence that we're not moving that disease around. But good point.





CHAIRMAN APLIN: Oliver, you still ruminating on your...

COMMISSIONER BELL: No, Chairman. I mean, I essentially agree with the overall concept. I was just trying to -- you know, to the extent that if it's possible to be able to reduce the conversation to an elevated pitch so that it can make -- it can make sense in short order rather than having to spend -- as the Chairman and I were having a separate conversation on something yesterday, if somebody can explain something in 30 seconds from one perspective and it takes us a longer time to explain it from another perspective, you know, maybe the shorter, simpler argument not necessarily is smarter or better; but it might prevail. So we just have to see how we can streamline the conversation as much as possible to create the greatest amount of understanding in the shortest time period possible, if that makes sense. So that's what I'm trying to understand with the rule.

MR. CAIN: No, it does. And the problem with this is, is we've got -- and we've talked about it -- there's so many different scenarios, that you can't create a regulation that addresses every one of those and so we try to, you know, provide something that's --

COMMISSIONER BELL: You can do a disservice -- you can do a disservice to it by trying to oversimplify it.

MR. CAIN: Yes.

So, Chairman, I just want to be clear. So your recommendation is move forward, but make the testing 60 and 60 for both trap site types; but on deer breeder release sites, if they want to be a trap site, they have to wait five years before they can then begin the sampling?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Well, that would be my logic and --

MR. CAIN: Okay.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- if I have fellow Commissioners support.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: James, you agree.

Paul, what are your thoughts?

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Yeah, I agree with the Chairman's idea of getting to equity at some point, having a path to where, you know, you're not always with the scarlet letter. You know, the --

MR. CAIN: Right.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: At some point, you're just a regular facility. But I share Commissioner Bell's concern about -- and Bobby raised the same thing about if, you know, if you have a smaller population of deer, it seems like having a fixed number of tests could be overly burdensome. I don't know what the right answer is. I know there's some statistics behind it and -- but, to me, that's where I have a little bit of discomfort, just thinking that it's not necessarily fair to everybody. That's -- that's -- that's my comment.

MR. CAIN: No, that's a good point. And the issue is there's so such variability and you almost have to have a customized testing plan for every one of those scenarios and that gets really complicated and I don't know that the Department can administer something that complicated.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Is it really that complicated? It sounds like there's been a lot of effort to talk about there aren't that many Triple T permit requests. It seems like it wouldn't be complicated or burdensome at all. And I mean again, you know, I'm going back to this same deal. The whole reason some landowners are moving deer out of their high-fenced area to their ranch low-fence, is so that they don't have to kill them to manage the herd from overpopulation. And then the message we're sending is, no, you need to kill them for their safety. So I just think that's kind of a mixed message, maybe the ultimate one.

MR. LOCKWOOD: So you have a good point. Again, Mitch Lockwood, Big Game Program Director. As long as the numbers of trap sites stay what they have been for the last few years, it doesn't seem like that it should be too complicated to work through, you know, three dozen sites. But the issue, as Alan was saying, is there's so much variability in these population estimates. I mean, you saw the confidence intervals that he showed on the Grayson County area, how that population ranges. And, yeah, that's an extreme example; but there's a lot of variability in these estimates where it may range from a deer to 7 acres to a deer to 55 acres and once you -- once you then put the acreage on top of that, your sample size for target could vary widely and so that leads to a lot of dispute, if you will, between the parties on whether there's really this lower number of deer or there's higher number of deer. The permit holder is going to want the lower number estimate perhaps to have fewer samples. At least -- I'm speaking from a lot of experience here that the Department has in similar areas.

And so it's just -- it's just not worth that dispute. Especially when the samples -- the sample size really isn't going to drop much. You're looking at -- these sites that have to Triple T deer, don't have just a few deer. They've got quite a few deer and so the sample size, it may drop from 60; but it's not going to be less than 50. And so it's just not worth that dispute and the time that goes into that.

MR. SMITH: So, Mitch, this may help allay the concern that have been raised by the Commissioners. In your and Alan's experience, are there many trap sites that don't have many deer or couldn't meet that 60-test criteria?

MR. CAIN: Just what I remember of all the trap sites, most of them are going to meet the 60. There's a handful, like Commissioner Patton is talking about, that probably won't, that have small populations that are just moving from one high-fence to another that wouldn't meet that; but I -- it's less than five.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: But we are going in the span of what is effectively a couple months, you know, putting a burden of 60 times what their burden historically had been forever in a couple -- couple -- 60 days ago. I mean, it is a big jump, particularly when there's really -- you know, it's just a cautionary measure. I mean, we still haven't had a Triple T issue with CWD.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Almost all these areas have a history of testing, so.

MR. CAIN: Well, that's true.

Well, Mitch just pointed out that most these areas have a history of testing and the Triple T trap sites would be eligible under this, you know, at least 60 tests. Most of them have been trapping for, well, four, five, six; but --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, I'm only talking about the ones that weren't required to submit a test.

MR. CAIN: Right. So --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Now they're going to -- now their burden is 60 times what it was, as opposed to the people that were required a number of 15, their burden is four times in the new -- in the new age. So it is quite a -- I'm only talking about the people that are burdened 60 times what they were required to do the last time.

MR. LOCKWOOD: And I think you're clear on what I'm about to say --


MR. LOCKWOOD: -- Commissioner Patton, but I want to make sure that, for the record, this is clear to everyone. What we're talking about is that 60 is an increase in that baseline sample. But those that have been required to test 15 deer a year, that 15 a year will continue into the future once that baseline of 60 is established. But, yes, those -- which I can count on one hand the number that had no testing requirement before -- that baseline would go from zero to 60, no doubt.

Our biggest concern -- and your point is a good one. A landowner in that case could take down a fence, but he could also take down the fence if he doesn't own the property next door. And if he doesn't own the property next door, clearly a Triple T permit is required to move deer from Property A to Property B. The disease just -- the ownership of the property doesn't provide any risk mitigation, if you will.

And I'll also state that it's not just breeder deer release sites that are required to maintain a fence. There's other permits that require a high-fence as well, such as a DMP facility. And some of the places that engage in this permit, engage in both. And so I think that the risk of a fence going down is really, really low. P.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: If we -- if we can count on one hand the number of people -- because most people Triple T out because they have more deer than they want on their property and there's someone that wants the deer and so it's a really, really good tool. Very few people I think Triple T out that don't have a robust population. Mitch said he can count on one hand, I think, the people that fall into that category.

So maybe we -- I guess we can have discussion and debate about this tomorrow as well?

MR. SMITH: No. It's not on the agenda for tomorrow. You know, right now we're looking for guidance as to whether or not we proceed --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Well, I knew that. I was just --

MR. SMITH: But, no, it's not -- we're not talking about it tomorrow.


MR. CAIN: So do y'all --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- I guess what I was asking is, is for that handful of people that are going from zero to 60, as Bobby mentioned, because there was never any requirement -- you know, I don't know. I think it is very, very few. I think it's very small and I think most people that Triple T out have a really big population. But what do you got?

MR. CAIN: There's three of those folks that would fit those example that you're talking about. So we go from --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Really we're only talking about two because I'm going to do 60. I'm not -- I want to avoid any conflict here, so.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you for that Commissioner Patton.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So the other two.


MR. CAIN: So, Chairman, do you have a suggestion?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I think I'm working to one. I mean, I heard what Commissioner Foster and Bell said and I acknowledge that a static number seems --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: May I? I mean, can't we just leave an open-ended, you know, unless otherwise approved by a biologist, you know, to give the people maybe an oppor -- you know, the likelihood it's probably not going to get approved; but, you know, at least they could submit a plan that -- I don't even have 60 deer in the high-fenced area. How the devil am I going to kill 60?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: For the smaller herds, would it make sense to have a ratio instead of a set number?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, just -- and if we're only talking about a couple people, I mean, just let's not set the number from this table in this vacuum and this afternoon.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: On the people that are wanting to move, common landowner from a high-fence to a low-fence, can we have a place where this Agency, the staff is flexible to see if it can meet the -- if they can get comfortable with it? In Bobby's example, there's two people.

MR. CAIN: So --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Is that too open-ended, or is that okay?

MR. CAIN: No. There's -- and we kind of talked about something. It was really related to the buffer stuff. But No. 6 on the screen there, it gives the Department basically flexibility to deem a trap site unacceptable as a trap site because the risk. Well, we could do something that kind of reverses that, gives the Department flexibility to deem a trap site, eligible for a trap site; but maybe not meet those requirements, depending on whatever epidemiological assessment that our Dr. Reed --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I mean, if we can catch, in this example, 90 -- whatever a whole -- the overwhelming percentage with the rule, but we can have opportunity for staff, that -- I think that kind of gets at what Bobby's talking to.

Carter, do you see any --

MR. SMITH: I think if it's limited to that area, that that's something that we could certainly live with. I guess I do want to remind everybody why we took this pause and, you know, it's because we had all of these epidemiologically linked release sites. We still haven't been able to run to ground as to what the level of risk is associated with those. And so, you know, whatever actions that the Commission ultimately takes on this, I want us to continue to be mindful of the fact as to why we're here.

And so I think there's a way to resolve the concern of that small number of proposed trap sites that fall into the category of adjacency or don't meet the numerical threshold that we have set for a confidence level. I think we ought to try to limit that to that kind of a customized epidemiological assessment. But I would be remiss if I didn't remind us as to why we're here and we're here because we still have a number -- dozens, in fact -- of release sites that are epidemiologically linked that we haven't cleared yet. We don't know the level of risk. And so that in turn, engenders concern about moving deer that may have had exposure to areas whose risk we haven't -- we haven't quite figured out. So just want us to keep that in mind and that probably is a sequence then, Chairman, about the notion of the buffer areas that you talked about around a CWD positive breeder facility and/or exposed release sites. Was there -- was there specific guidance that you had for --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: For me, I mean the task force said two to five; but you're right. Thank you for reminding me, but it seems like it can't -- I can't ever get it off my mind why we're here. We live it and you and I live it every day. But, yes, that's why we're here.

So for me, that radius -- especially with trying to get equality between the group and go from 120 to 60 and everything that we've talked about -- I could see that that perimeter go from 5 to 10. Meaning 5 miles from a known -- see if I get this right, Alan -- 5 miles from a known breeder facility that has a problem.

MR. CAIN: Release site. 5 miles from release site, 2 miles from --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: No. Five from breeder facility that has a --

MR. CAIN: Okay.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- problem and 10 miles --

MR. CAIN: Ten miles from a release --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- from a release site that is linked, epi-linked to a problem. I mean, that is -- that is a really increase in -- I don't know that it's abundance of caution, but it's an improvement in caution.

MR. CAIN: It's -- it would definitely probably make folks more comfortable. The biology doesn't necessarily warrant that, except in -- if you're looking at the extremes. You know, the average -- or home ranges vary significantly. It depends on a lot of factors; but in Texas, you'll have small --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Well, but if y'all have the flexibility, I'm going -- I don't know the number. But as few of release -- as few of trap sites as there are, you've got to have a trap site, then it's got to be within that radius of a problem site, and that's probably getting down to close to none; but if there is one, then it's -- then that person has been brought in to this perimeter, but you also have the ability to deem unacceptable or to deem acceptable if we give you guys that right. But I would also increase the perimeter, I think, just as an abundance of caution.

What I'm really trying to do here in the end -- I think what we're all trying to do is get this to a place that the people that have been the scarlet letter, so to speak, that we can get them in a place where they're safe to conduct business as all the other ranch owners. And then the suggestion that Commissioner Patton brings up, I'm okay with that. It's a small, small, small group and if we give the ability for the -- for the Agency to analyze that and decide it, we haven't created a giant job because it's very, very, very small.

MR. CAIN: So I -- just so I'm clear. So I'm going to kind of repeat this again to make sure we're on the same page. Sixty tests between the two different sites; but on breeder release sites, you wouldn't be able to test until five years post-release. Add a provision that gives the Department flexibility to conduct an epidemiological investigation to allow Triple T between adjacent pastures, maybe at a smaller testing rate, not the 60. And then also within the buffers, give the Department the flexibility to assess --


MR. CAIN: -- the trap site and whether they can be eligible within 5- and 10-mile buffer that you're proposing to expand to.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Yes. And then, obviously, if you're in an Animal Health Commission hold order --

MR. CAIN: That's all bets off.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- that's out.

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And I think the big, floppy tag is very important for these released deer. So, yes, that would be kind of where I'm leaning.

Commissioners, what say you?

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Let me think just a second.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: While you're thinking, it sounds fine. Patton.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Bobby, for getting that out there.

Who's next?

I guess we don't necessarily need to vote, but that will be a recommendation unless there's a Commissioner that has an issue, a real issue, and then address it and adjust accordingly.

You good?

MR. CAIN: So we'll request permission to publish with these modifications that we talked about and then, obviously, we'll have time for public comment and then the Commission will have time to weigh in again in March.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So that's the process. So you will go publish and then we will be here in front of this same group in March to decide. Is that how this goes?

MR. CAIN: Seek adoption at that time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Yes. So we're going to go seek comment, which is what is we need. Now we need the comment.

MR. CAIN: Yep, that's correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: That's what I was getting to.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: All right. I think everybody's good. Then, yes.

Any other questions? Comments?

No further questions, I'm going to authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for required public comment to include the changes that we just discussed, Alan, and hope somebody took some notes.

MR. CAIN: I've got some notes. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Work Session Item No. 14 through 17 will be held in Executive Session. So I have a little work I've got to read here.

At this time, I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meetings Act, seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Opening Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplating litigation. We will now recess for Executive Session at 1:51 and we'll be back.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Back to -- back to the public session. We'll reconvene the Work Session on January 26, 2022, at 2:43 p.m.

Before I begin, I need to take roll call. Aplin present.







CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. We've got more than enough to conduct business. We're now returning from Executive Session where we discussed the Work Session Real Estate Items Nos. 14 through 16, Litigation No. 17. If there's no further questions, I'll place Items 14 through 16 on Thursday's Commission Meeting agenda for public comment.

Regarding Item 17, there's no further action needed at this time.

Everything's good, Mr. Smith. This Commission has completed its Work Session, and I declare us adjourned at 2:44 p.m.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(Work Session Adjourns)



I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand Reporter in and for the State of Texas, do hereby certify that the above-mentioned matter occurred as hereinbefore set out.

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such were reported by me or under my supervision, later reduced to typewritten form under my supervision and control and that the foregoing pages are a full, true, and correct transcription of the original notes.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Turn in date _____ day of ________________, ________.


Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: January 31, 2023

2223 Mockingbird Drive

Round Rock, Texas 78681